A perfect mix for horror/Brit TV fans, the acclaimed 2015 three-part series MIDWINTER OF THE SPIRIT has been conjured up on American DVD from Acorn/RJL Entertainment/ITV Studios. Based on the unnerving novel by Phil Rickman, this spooky, richly-mined character study revolves around Merrily Watkins (The Bletchley Circle’s Anna Maxwell Martin in a terrific performance), a newly single-parent country vicar, in training as a “deliverance minister” (that’s exorcist, to you). Her amusing time spent in her Max von Sydow class (headed by a sarcastic Rev. Huw Owen, an equally fine display of acting by David Threfall) finds Merrily making merry with the head-spinning jokes before things take a decidedly dark…turn.
A crucified, mutilated corpse is found in the nearby woods, and before you can say “sacrificial rites,” Merrily is called in as a consultant to the police investigation (led by Kate Dickie and Simon Trinder). Concurrent is the hospice patient Denzel Joy (Oengus MacNamara), a devout Satanist, who Watkins reluctantly visits. Her fear of him is justified, as he performs his final act of blasphemy – jumping up and giving Watkins the old stigmata hearty hand-clasp. Merrily, we learn, is bit unhinged to begin with; key to the woman’s increasing fragile mental state are the strange circumstances surrounding her husband’s recent death (in their quasi-sham marriage), her growing doubts about faith, and her rebellious daughter Jane (Sally Messham), who’s getting ready to ditch mom for a mysterious new friend, Rowenna (Leila Mimmack, labeled by all “as damaged goods”). Add a Bishop (Nicholas Pinnock) whose controversial ideas about religion may be too progressive, a suspicious social worker (Doc Brown) determined to uncover the truth about Rowenna’s past, Angela, a publican a bit too well-versed in the black arts (Siobhan Finneran), an aged Canon in perpetual mortal terror (David Sterne), and a smarmy about-to-be-confirmed Boy-Bishop (Will Attenborough). Wow, it’s been a busy week!
With rituals, cult gatherings, the discovery of a centuries-old ancient curse, and growing paranoia in the community, Merrily begins to wonder if it’s all really happening, or, if she is indeed plummeting into the abyss of insanity (red flag clue: that handshake residual ain’t getting any better).
Soon the village is agog with rumors of pedophilia, incest, possession and human sacrifices. When Angela reveals the spirit of Jane’s father, she learns that he is not rooting for his ex (and, for Watkin’s sake, that “ex” better also mean exorcist graduate, because unless Merrily regains her faith before the Boy-Bishop’s crowning, all Hell will break loose).
Aside from the aforementioned acting, MIDWINTER OF THE SPIRIT doesn’t miss a trick (or treat). Stephen Volk’s writing is tense, the tight direction (by Richard Clark) top-notch, the somber, haunting Herefordshire location photography (by Matt Gray) superb, and the score by Edmund Butt is appropriately spine-tingling. Picture and sound are beautifully rendered via the terrific widescreen, stereo-surround DVD offered up by Acorn Media.
A thoroughly creepy, immensely intelligent foray into the supernatural (imagine a mini-series produced by Val Lewton), MIDWINTER OF THE SPIRIT is sure to be an item collectors will want to trot out every Halloween. What better way to entertain friends and loved ones than by scaring the bejesus out of them!
MIDWINTER OF THE SPIRIT. Color. Widescreen [1.75: 1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/ITV Studios. CAT # AMP-2478. SRP: $34.99.