Viewing the first episode, those familiar with the facts of the case will quickly realise that there will be an on-going element of over-dramatisation for the purpose of keeping the audience engaged and entertained. A deviation from Playfair’s account may come as an early disappointment to some, as there are so many incidents in the actual investigation that come to mind which would have made gripping viewing.
What we are presented with – especially from the second episode – is a shift away from the spooky-goings on at a council property in north London, towards the turmoil suffered by lead investigator Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall), who has lost his daughter Janet to a motorcycling accident, and his troubled relationship with his wife Betty (Juliet Stevenson). Although this tragedy is factually correct, this over-dramatisation is apparent in the screen time dedicated to Grosse’s home life and the tension between the grieving couple.
This loss leads Grosse to form a unique bond with the primary victim of the paranormal phenomena experienced in the London borough of Enfield – Janet Hodgson – who he sees as a substitute to his own late daughter. Played by the very impressive Eleanor Worthington Cox, Janet Hodgson is a vulnerable yet cheeky young girl who is the main focus of the evil spirit that resides within her home. Judging by these powerful performances, I have no doubt that we will be seeing more of Worthington Cox on our television screens soon enough.
As previously mentioned, I feel that The Enfield Haunting could have been something quite different and a little more authentic to the recorded facts. Some of the key events that made it into the series could have been portrayed slightly differently. For example, one particular event involving young Janet, could have been executed much more effectively and disturbingly, in the vein of BBC’s Ghost Watch – which was also inspired by the same paranormal case.
Instead, it plays out a lot like something you would expect in a modern horror film, such as Insidious, or The Conjuring. Incidentally, The Conjuring 2 will be drawing its inspiration from the same case, so you could understand if this approach were adapted for the upcoming feature film, but this is a television drama that I feel deviates a little too far from its source material – especially by the mid-way point.
As would be expected, there are tense moments throughout and a few jump scares, which are nicely contrasted with some more light-hearted moments to break it all up and give the viewer a breather – a scene where Grosse encourages Janet to let out some of her frustrations in the final episode being a highlight.
By the third episode, the case becomes unrecognisable to the informed viewer and again the focus moves away from the recorded events, as Janet’s experience becomes one of fiction. A confusing twist follows a discussion that draws comparisons in the belief of the supernatural between Enfield and Africa (It’s the Seventies!) and we tread a similar path as that of such supernatural fare as The Sixth Sense. This leads to an abrupt and unsatisfactory climax compared to my expectation from the outset.
I must stress that as a supernatural drama, this mini-series plays out quite well – but it’s the four words that appear in the caption at the beginning of each episode that bothers me the most – “Based on True Events” – that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. From a personal point of view, it felt as though this was not based enough on the case – a feeling that grew with the progression of each episode. It certainly did not do this enough to merit adopting the title of The Enfield Haunting - it could've been alternatively titled The Anywhere Haunting. However, having gone with the chosen title, the audience's expectations of the series are a comprehensive and faithful adaptation to television of the events in EN3 in the 1970s. Putting this tenuous link with the real case aside, this is actually an enjoyable supernatural television drama in its own right.
Special features include a mixed bag of short extras originally shot to promote the TV series. Again, this would have been the perfect opportunity to include a few features on the real case – one particular well-known documentary (Interview With A Poltergeist) on the events of Enfield comes to mind, and would’ve been a nice touch to include here. I guess there are all sorts of legal minefields that would need navigating in order to include such material with this release, but it’s another example of how this mini-series and the real case are kept at arm’s length of each other.
The Enfield Haunting is available on UK DVD from 19th October.
Review: The Enfield Haunting
By Andreas Charalambous -
Updated: 12th October 2015
With the first announcement that Sky Living was to produce The Enfield Haunting – based on the book This House is Haunted by witness to events, Guy Lyon Playfair (Click here for book review) - I was very excited to see the finished product on the television screen.
The three-part mini series – directed by The Killing’s Kristoffer Nyholm, and starring a very impressive all-star cast - was broadcast earlier this year, enjoying good media coverage and success in its viewing figures. It now receives its home DVD release from 19th October.
Being very familiar with the notorious poltergeist case due to its relatively close proximity, and having thoroughly enjoyed Playfair’s account in his book, I had a very clear expectation of what would await in this adaptation for the television screen. Incidentally, we see Playfair (played by the ever-graceful Matthew Macfadyen) documenting what will become his aforementioned book, within the drama.