The Enfield Haunting


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Enfield Haunting
"Whatever one's take on the story, there's no disputing that the series has a terrific cast."

London, 1977. On an Enfield housing estate, single mother Peggy is worried; her daughters, Margaret and Janet, have told her that they've heard strange noises and furniture has been moving on its own. She calls the police but they don't know how to help. So, as events begin to escalate, she talks to the newspapers and brings in the Society for Psychical Research. What follows will become one of the most talked-about 'hauntings' ever to occur in the UK.

As well as being one of the most famous, the Enfield haunting has the distinction of being one of the most thoroughly debunked. There are still believers, of course, and people who argue that, although the two girls faked or exaggerated some of the supposed paranormal events, others were real. Nevertheless, this mini-series comes across as somewhat skewed by taking a position distinctly favourable to the supernatural hypothesis. Its approach also means it misses out on what is potentially much more interesting material. It's a surprise to see Nyholm, celebrated director of The Killing, leaving major aspects of his story underexplored, but if you're sympathetic to the idea of ghosts and excited by what it might mean if they're real, this work may hold some thrills for you.

Copy picture

Whatever one's take on the story, there's no disputing that the series has a terrific cast. Timothy Spall is watchable as always, poignantly evoking investigator Maurice Grosse's feelings about his deceased daughter (another Janet), and at other times keeping us guessing as to just how serious he might be. Juliet Stevenson, dressed in appallingly ugly period clothes, plays his wife, with the tension between them one of the more interesting aspects of the series. Eleanor Worthington-Cox gives a charismatic performance as the elder of the girls, bringing more complexity to the role than is provided for in the lines she's given.

The costuming and set decoration deserve a mention, showing superb attention to detail and effective capturing the grimness of life on the poverty line in this aesthetically challenged era. This ought to make the supposed poltergeist antics that we see scarier - the old trick of the supernatural intruding on the ordinary - but we see too much too soon, and none of it really very striking. The result is something that feels like one of those countless BBC costume dramas with plots stretched too thin. With skeptical perspectives soon overridden (and the stronger skeptics involved in the real life investigation not appearing), there are not enough questions left to fill three episodes.

It's always a challenge to make a ghost story work on screen. Some people seem to have been genuinely scared by this series. For others, it has a certain nostalgic cachet because the Enfield story inspired much-loved Nineties mockumentary Ghostwatch. It may well prove to have some traction amongst young teenagers, and where that happens, parents might expect to encounter a few home made poltergeist scares of their own. It's a pretty safe introduction to the genre for young people, but as far as older viewers are concerned, that's precisely the problem.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2015
Share this with others on...
The Enfield Haunting packshot
A retelling of one of the UK's most famous real life paranormal investigations.

Director: Kristoffer Nyholm

Writer: Joshua St Johnston

Starring: Timothy Spall, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Fern Deacon, Juliet Stevenson, Matthew Macfadyen, Rosie Cavaliero, Elliot Kerley

Year: 2015

Runtime: 149 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

When The Lights Went Out