Midwinter: the paranormal element
Is it or isn’t it? Usually, in the Merrily books, it more is than isn’t, but there’s always room for doubt. That crack of light under the door could mean anything.
We’re really hoping that sense of ambivalence can transfer to television. But what do the core people think about peripheral issues?
Executive producer KIERAN ROBERTS, the man who first decided ITV should acquire Merrily, is a churchgoer who lives next door to his vicar. He’s thought about this a lot.
‘There is a very interesting scene at the beginning of the first episode where Huw Owen, played by David Threlfall, is talking to Merrily about the dangers of the job. He’s not saying there are ghouls and demons out there. This isn’t a horror film. What he is saying is, there is evil out there. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. The indisputable fact is that some people do believe in evil. Some to the extent where they are prepared to do very dangerous things themselves. They may even be prepared to kill in the name of evil. That is what is going on in the background as part of this story.
‘Merrily is certainly seeing and sensing things that deeply unsettle her. Whether that’s because of the fragile mental and emotional state of the character, given all she’s been through, or she is being haunted in some properly paranormal sense, is a question we leave open.
‘It’s a very unusual combination. A crime thriller with a supernatural twist which raises some interesting questions about faith and good and evil. There’s that quote from Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ That’s a very powerful idea. Don’t close your mind to things that might be out there.’
‘I do believe these things can exist,’ says ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN (Merrily) I’ve never seen anything myself but I have friends who have. Whether that’s a manifestation of them being crazy, I don’t know. Or whether those things do actually exist. I absolutely believe this is possible. I’m totally open to it. I’m not cynical about it.’
‘I didn’t know how dark the story was going to be until I read it and started working on the production,’ says ITV’s Jane Watkins, SALLY MESSHAM, for whom, if the series continues, the worst of the darkness is to come.
‘Family members have told me stories about their experiences. I do believe there is something out there. It hasn’t happened to me, personally, but I definitely think there is something there.’
DAVID THRELFALL did some intensive research for his role as senior exorcist Huw Owen – including talking in depth to one of PR’s regular exorcist contacts.
‘I didn’t know anything about deliverance ministers. They are very quiet, unassuming, listening, kind, helpful people who other people call if they have a problem – that could be, in our lay terms, what might be perceived as a poltergeist, a ghost or any of those things. But it’s very rarely a problem of personal possession.
‘What was interesting was that not all people inside the Christian church think it’s valid. This is, as I understand it, a divisive thing within the church. Some think people with those kind of problems need a psychiatrist or a social worker. There are those that say, ‘They need to go to a psychiatrist because they’re bipolar or they’re schizophrenic. Whereas, in fact, deliverance encapsulates all of that.
These ministers have to be open to any situation they go into in order to ask the right questions and listen properly. The biggest quality you have to have is to be able to listen. And that’s a perfect thing for an actor. Because it’s sometimes one of the hardest things to do.
‘I think there’s energy around of some kind. I’ve been interested in the way the pre-Christian magic occupied almost literally the power lines, the ley lines in this country. They then were taken over by Christian places of worship. Churches. I find that interesting.
NIGHTMARE FROM GAOL STREET
DCI Annie Howe, based at Hereford’s Gaol Street nick, is an atheist and deeply sceptical about anything verging on the paranormal. But the woman who plays her, KATE DICKIE, talks here about an experience scarily similar to Merrily’s encounter with Denzil Joy… but even less explicable.
SIMON TRINDER (DS Frannie Bliss) needs no convincing.
‘I was over the moon when I received the script for Midwinter, for several reasons.
Firstly, like the novel itself, it was a gripping read from the first page. Secondly, it had a grit and an edge to it that I rarely see on our screens today. Thirdly because someone was finally shooting something that deals with the reality of spiritual warfare.
As a christian, I firmly believe that what Phil’s novels deal with is less strange than you may think.
When I was 19 I moved to Glasgow to study drama. I lived in a big flat on Berkeley Street, at Charing Cross, sharing with other students. Not long after I moved, a strange thing started happening. I woke up one morning to find a tiny, deep cut on the side of my thumb, at the top near my nail. I didn’t think anything of it but every morning after that, another cut would appear.
The cuts were all identical – tiny and deep and all in a line, one under the other. I kept checking my bed for a scratchy feather in the quilt, or a stray pin or anything at all that I could be cutting myself on, but couldn’t find anything. I wondered if I was scratching myself but the cuts weren’t like scratches and they were in such a uniform line that I couldn’t see that I could possibly be doing it myself.
Many countries in the world operate on the assumption that they are surrounded by a spiritual reality that permeates their day to day lives. While I would agree that superstition goes a long way to explain many things, I have had far too many conversations with people I admire and respect who testify to deeply disturbing encounters with entities that seem to want to harm or destroy them.
Before we allow our contemporary, enlightened western mindset to kick in and reject such stories as third world mumbo jumbo, we must remind ourselves that science itself continues to reveal mystery upon mystery about the very fabric of the universe.
This went on for weeks until I had loads of these tiny nicks down the side of my thumb and round the bottom of it. All identical and all in a perfect line. Then one night, late on, I was lying in my bed awake, when I suddenly felt a slash-like feeling across my stomach.
I put the light on and there was a fresh cut across my stomach, like a long scratch going from one side to the other. This one wasn’t deep. I had been lying with my arms by my side so I knew for sure it wasn’t me. I jumped up and woke my friend up and showed her and we both went over my quilt, sheets, mattress, to see if we could find anything sharp, but we didn’t.
After the night with the big scratch on my stomach, the cuts just stopped. I never woke up with one again, and I’ve never worked out what the whole thing was all about. To this day it remains a total mystery to me.