" Midwinter of the Spirit" features a female Priest barely inducted into the art of Deliverance Ministry, being thrust into a seemingly Occult Murder.
Anna Maxwell-Martin takes on the role of Merrily Watkins. Young, female and On a Retreat in perhaps the most secluded classroom in the British Isles with Grizzled tutor played by David Threlfall. His Training tells the students to rule out all avenues before presuming a spiritual solution is required. Removing lies, mental illness and cries for help from abuse from the picture leaving only the holy.
Sharing a cigarette break with her tutor Huw, we get a little exposition. Merrily is being primed to take over from Canon Dodds, currently the Priest ministering Deliverance. He is a bit of an oddball and she is kind of an experiment to try to modernise the Deliverance Ministry. He seems to be struggling against a great spiritual foe and gradually losing ground and his sanity! Merrily has been recently bereaved and Huw is worried she may be vulnerable to both spirit and real people who have latched onto satanism to rebel against people of God. He says, he of all people knows the risk to mind,body and spirit. It is hinted that Huw too has some loss to process, hence his utter seclusion.
Merrily is Mother to Jane, her sixteen year old daughter, who is unhappy about being transported to a rural parish so soon after losing her father. This I suspect is the chink that dark forces might use once events start to take off. Jane has befriended Rowena who has a troubled past, a penchant for "signs" and a dead crow on her kitchen table when her social worker comes to call.
With no time to catch her breath, Merrily is whisked away by the police into the woodland where a man has been found in crucifix position with a crown of barbed wire. merrily is suitably shocked. She walks away, the scene shaking her to the core.
That night Merrily is called to the hospital to minister Last Rights to a thoroughly unsavoury emphysema patient, who is a violent offender, child molester and animal torturer. The nurses feels evil presence around him. Merrily tries to be forgiving, but when she administers a blessing he starts clenching his hand in an eerie way and as the machines flatline, he sits up and digs his fingers into her palm so hard that he breaks the skin. He is a creepy man in a hospital bed, far creepier popping up in a mirror in Merrily's bedroom later that night!
The police take her to Paul Sayer's home, the victim in the woods. He is is a learned Satanist thirsting for knowledge unlike the so called "Headbangers" out for kicks. His room is wreathed in imagery and iconology. The police wonder if his murder was by an Christian, but this is debunked by Merrily saying the sacrilegious nature of the crime negates that idea. Seeking advice and support Merrily finally gets Canon Dodds to speak to her, but his portents of doom, of her faith not being strong enough,do nothing to assuage her fears.
Meanwhile Rowena takes Jane to the pub and a chance meeting with a spirit medium, whose Tarot reading prompts her yo claim her father is close because her grief is unresolved. The experience spooks her so much that she smashes a glass and Rowena's social worker catches them and rips into Merrily before getting all of the facts.
Cannon Dodds finally has a psychotic break at the cathedral, attacking the Bishop and Barricading himself in. The police are called, but they do not hold him and by the time Merrily gets to the station the following morning, he has gone home. When Merrily gets there poor Cannon Dodds is dead by his own hand.
This show reminded me very much of "Apparitions" a show about a Demonic exorcism from the BBC, starring Martin Shaw, thrilling without being overtly horrific. David Threlfall is as ever such a quality actor that his very short appearance resonates through the episode. Anna Maxwell- Shaw plays Merrily in a very human way, not as a stuffy cleric, or hysterical girlish believer, but as a modern woman with deeply held beliefs. The supporting cast compliment her and this was a promising start to what I suspect will be a chilling story.