Saturday 22 October 2016

A hauntingly good tale of things going bump in the night

Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse, Timothy Spall as Maurice Grosse and Matthew Macfadyen as Guy Lyon Playfair in the The Enfield Haunting
Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse, Timothy Spall as Maurice Grosse and Matthew Macfadyen as Guy Lyon Playfair in the The Enfield Haunting

THE Enfield Haunting, continuing on Sky Living for the next two Sundays, is a fabulously shivery haunted house chiller full of genuinely creepy, leap-out-of-your-seat moments.

Doors bang, taps drip and spooky noises emanate from a wardrobe, which then skids across the bedroom and topples over.

Marbles and Lego bricks appear out of thin air and ping violently off the walls. That most innocuous of items, a teapot, slides across a kitchen table of its own accord and smashes into pieces on the floor.

A scary old man comes to life inside a View-Master’s 3D picture and lunges at a terrified little girl. When she peers into the device again, he’s vanished from the image. Later, unknown to her, the spectre glides past outside a window in unison with her walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Later still, the same little girl is almost strangled to death when her bedroom curtains take on a life of their own and fashion themselves into a noose.

It’s all the more effective because the supernatural events take place not in the kind of gloomy old mansion beloved of every horror fiction writer from Sheridan Le Fanu to Shirley Jackson and beyond, but in an ordinary council house in London in 1977.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s all true? Well, sort of true. It’s “based on a true story”, which is not quite the same thing. The Enfield Haunting is a three-part adaptation of paranormal investigator Guy Playfair’s 1980 book This House is Haunted.

Playfair, who’s played here by Ripper Street’s Matthew Macfadyean (all floral-pattern shirts and purple velvet jackets), spent a year investigating the case of the so-called ‘Enfield Poltergeist’, in which the Hodgson family – and particularly 11-year-old daughter Janet, beguilingly played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox – claimed they were being terrorised by a malign spirit.

The story made headlines around the world and captivated readers of the Daily Mirror, the first newspaper to put a reporter and photographer on the story.

Playfair wasn’t the only ghost hunter on the scene. The less flashy Maurice Grosse, played by Timothy Spall, was the first paranormal investigator called in to Enfield.

The drama makes great play of the kindly Grosse forming an avuncular bond with Janet Hodgson. He was mourning the death of his daughter, who was also called Janet, while she was missing her father in the wake of her parents’ divorce.

Many sceptics and magicians have dismissed the alleged haunting as a hoax perpetrated mainly by Janet, with some input from her older sister. They claim Grosse and Playfair’s closeness to the Hodgsons caused them to be more credulous than they should have been.

Decades later, the adult Janet admitted in an interview that she and her sister had faked some stuff, and the lengthy Wikipedia entry on the Enfield Poltergeist lists numerous examples of her being caught in the act – although Grosse and Playfair (who, incidentally, believed Uri Geller had real psychic powers) were happy to overlook or play down these incidences.

Ultimately, though, does it really matter if the story, which also forms the basis of the upcoming Hollywood movie The Conjuring 2, is a load of hooey? The Enfield Haunting is first-rate TV, impeccably acted, beautifully produced and blessed with a talented director, Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing), who has a real feel for the brown-and-beige drabness of ’70s’ Britain. That’s more than enough.

Available to view on Sky on Demand

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