Midwinter of the Spirit: 1.03

In the final episode of Midwinter of the Spirit, all strands are finally brought together. Saints and demons, mothers and daughters, bishops, boy bishops, Satanists and assorted clergy. All were there to push us at pace to the climax of Phil Rickman’s Little Village of Horrors tale.

The Satanists all, Angela the Medium, the Boy Bishop and Rowenna head to Hereford Cathedral to enact their master plan: To once more summon a demon into their midst; last attempted in the 13th century but thwarted by the presence of the spirit of Saint Cantaloupe. All parts are needed, the evil-doers themselves, the absence of the real Bishop who has granted his powers to the Boy Bishop for the day, the absence of the bones of Saint Cantaloupe, the ashes of Denzil Joy... And dear innocent Jane, a lamb amidst wolves.

Arrayed against these forces are the Witchfinder Senior and our poor, almost broken Merrily Watkins, her faith tested and faltering.
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It isn’t her faith that drives her onward though, but her fierce love for her daughter Jane, a very human strength arrayed against such supernatural foes. Even her mentor Rev. Huw Owens (David Threlfall) says that mostly what they battle isn’t otherworldly demonic forces, but human evil, wielded with intent, causing an erosion of not only faith, but the feeling that goodness can survive in the world.

It’s this perspective, slightly buried at a point in the narrative of great tension, that really helps Midwinter of the Spirit thrive. For all the stigmata and mediums and images of evil hauntings, what it comes down to is not a supernatural horror, but a psychological one. It gifts the show a redemption that its antagonists will never earn.

The conclusion seems to be resolved far too rapidly, a human empathy, delivered strongly by Anna Maxwell-Martin, but succeeding perhaps a little too easily. However, any disappointment this may have engendered was washed away by the surprising denouement. A reveal that, while suspected in the first episode, was foolishly dismissed in the second, and thrown in dramatically in the finale.

Overall, Midwinter of the Spirit was a surprisingly solid show, deftly avoiding some of the pitfalls of the genre and delivering Gothic Horror to an unsuspecting ITV audience. There are many Merrily Watkins books as yet unadapted; hopefully not for much longer.

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