The Enfield Haunting begins with the caption ‘Based on Real Events’. As with any supernatural story making this claim, it’s probably best not to question to what extent events occurred as depicted. Better to accept the story as a chilling tale and just go with it.
The year is 1977. The Hodgson family in, yes, Enfield is subject to a series of ‘Strange Happenings’ including furniture moving of its own accord. Reporters assigned to the story call in Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall) from the Society of Psychical Research to investigate the claims.
The episode does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of a strike-ridden 1970’s Britain which is worn around the edges. This mood plays a big part in the effectiveness of the story.
Events play out quickly, without ever feeling rushed, as the haunting itself is established early on. The story is set in motion efficiently, although it is surprising that the key event of a police officer witnessing poltergeist activity is mentioned but not shown. Such a credible witness was crucial to this becoming one of the country’s most famous hauntings, so such an omission feels strange. But the story is keen to get to Grosse’s investigation.
Maurice is the main character in this episode. He has a compelling backstory which explains his interest in the supernatural. He is a bereaved father who, a year ago, lost his daughter Janet (also the name of one of the Hodgson siblings). Grosse is a well-rounded character, given quiet pathos by Spall.
It is to the story’s credit that this is not just a ghost story, but a human one too. Significant events occur in the characters’ lives which have nothing to do with poltergeists. It seems that the plot of Maurice’s relationship with his wife will gain significance in coming episodes. The best – and most touching scene – is when Maurice comforts Janet and tells her how he met his wife (played by Juliet Stevenson).
As for the ghost story, there is a nice sense of creeping dread as events escalate. The tone is tense and creepy, with some jump-scares thrown in for good measure. But the ghost itself may be the weakest point in the tale. There are moments when the spirit is shown which feel out of place. The key to a good monster is not to show too much of it. The ghost works well in glimpses in the background, but may have been revealed in full too early (albeit providing a very scary jolt).
The investigation takes a turn when fellow researcher Guy Playfair (Matthew Macfadyen) turns up. The Society of Psychical Research have sent him because they fear that newspaper reports of the haunting make the society look as if they accept such claims too readily. Playfair is a dandyish globetrotting paranormal expert played with relish by Macfadyen. He casts a sceptical eye over proceedings and won’t believe something until he sees it.
The Enfield Haunting is a highly effective ghost story with superb direction and great performances all round, including the children. The ‘Next Time’ teaser appears to indicate that events will ratchet up in the next episode – with the risk of potentially going over the top. But this opener was sensitive and low-key when it needed to be and I will be watching the concluding installments.
Contributed by Daryl Miller