Ghost Watch

Tales from the house of hor­ror

SFX - - Red Alert -

No Easy An­swers The real- life case re­mains tan­ta­lis­ingly un­solved, and St John­ston was keen to pre­serve that am­bi­gu­ity in the show. To an ex­tent. “At the start of the process I was very keen. But as it went on I thought a story de­mands an­swers at cer­tain points, and even if they’re not fi­nal an­swers you've got to keep mov­ing things for­ward. What we’ve ended up with I think you can in­ter­pret in dif­fer­ent ways, so there are an­swers there if you want them, but I sup­pose the am­bi­gu­ity has been de­lib­er­ately pre­served.”

True De­tec­tive 2 For St John­ston, hav­ing a wealth of ma­te­rial to draw on proved an ad­van­tage. “It felt like a huge re­source be­cause it sparked off ideas in my mind and there's plenty of ma­te­rial. For ex­am­ple, if a mo­ment came where I thought, ‘ Some­thing scary needs to hap­pen now’ some­where in my mind I would have a hun­dred scary things that hap­pened at En­field that I could choose from. It means cer­tain choices are much eas­ier to make and it frees up your mind to deal with some of the tougher choices.”

Girl Trou­ble 3 Matilda The Mu­si­cal’s Eleanor Wor­thing­ton- Cox plays Janet Hodg­son, the ap­par­ently pos­sessed child swept up in a me­dia whirl­wind. Find­ing the right per­son wasn’t easy. “Within a sen­tence she will be pos­sessed by the spirit of a malev­o­lent 70- some­thing man and be a fright­ened girl again,” St John­ston says. “The cen­tral thing she does so bril­liantly is play a sparky 11- year- old girl who, de­spite there be­ing a poltergeist who is ter­ror­is­ing her, never loses that girl­ish, play­ful qual­ity.”

“There’s some­thing very dark and danger­ous hap­pen­ing in that house”

Strong Bonds

4 “Mau­rice’s wife Betty was a dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter to write be­cause Mau­rice and Betty in real life had a fan­tas­ti­cally strong mar­riage, which I have cel­e­brated, but in a drama you want to make things tough for them,” St John­ston says. “At one point I'd writ­ten a row be­tween them that ended with Betty slap­ping Mau­rice and their son, who was an ad­vi­sor, said: ‘ That would never, ever have hap­pened.’ So we took it out. But we found a good story to tell with them, to do with los­ing a child.” and a cast of familiar favourites in­clud­ing Ti­mothy Spall, Matthew Macfadyen and Juliet Stevenson, along­side rel­a­tive new­com­ers Eleanor Wor­thing­ton- Cox and Fern Dea­con, who play the Hodg­son daugh­ters. Spall stars as Mau­rice Grosse – the fuzzy- lipped para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tor who – along with the more scep­ti­cal Guy Lyon Play­fair ( Macfadyen) – ob­served a se­ries of un­ex­plained events at the house, in­clud­ing lev­i­ta­tion and the voice of a de­ceased for­mer res­i­dent emerg­ing from Janet.

For St John­ston, it was im­por­tant that a solid emo­tional core un­der­pinned the scares, some­thing true- life tragedy pro­vided. “A cru­cial part of this story for me was the fact that this lead psy­chic in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Mau­rice, had lost a daugh­ter called Janet in a mo­tor­bike ac­ci­dent the year be­fore, and that Janet had lost her fa­ther in as much as he had left the fam­ily home,” St John­ston ex­plains. “It felt like what­ever the su­per­nat­u­ral story there could also be th­ese real- world emo­tions of loss and emo­tional need that were underpinning it all, some­thing to set against the scary stuff.”

St John­ston was spoilt for choice when it came to doc­u­men­ta­tion on the case, cit­ing Adam Curtis’s on­line es­say “The Ghosts In The Living Room” and Guy Lyon Play­fair’s book “This House Is Haunted” as par­tic­u­larly valu­able re­sources. “Guy doesn’t have the same bag­gage as Mau­rice, and has a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence so is there­fore, ar­guably, more scep­ti­cal. They make a very funny dou­ble act be­cause Mau­rice is warm and em­pa­thetic and trust­ing and Guy, in the way I’ve writ­ten him, is a bit more aca­demic, writerly, and doesn’t al­ways care quite what the re­ac­tion to what he says or does is.”

Although St John­ston was too young to re­mem­ber the case when it hap­pened, the ’ 70s is not a decade he’s ever forgotten. “It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary time. I re­mem­ber what the ’ 70s was like and what an in­cred­i­bly dif­fer­ent world it was. I think that is part of peo­ple’s in­ter­est in the story, and that’s what Adam Curtis writes about so bril­liantly in that on­line es­say – the strange­ness of see­ing an ex­or­cism against the back­ground of swirly wall­pa­per.”

As for scares, the show won’t skimp on them but keeps largely to the facts, re­sist­ing the urge to go Full Ex­or­cist. “There was lev­i­tat­ing in the real case, fits, ob­jects be­ing thrown around, strange fig­ures be­ing seen in the house and a num­ber of dif­fer­ent voices com­ing out of Janet and Mar­garet’s mouths, so we do all that,” St John­ston says. “Lots of very dis­turb­ing and un­ex­plain­able stuff hap­pens. Some­times it’s to do with sur­prises, some­times it’s to do with the ap­pre­hen­sion of what’s go­ing to hap­pen.

“But hav­ing said all that it doesn’t feel over the top be­cause it all re­lates to stuff that ac­tu­ally hap­pened. And there’s so much ma­te­rial we weren’t able to get into three hours. In a way it’s quite pared back. There isn’t a devil and there’s no head ro­tat­ing 360 de­grees, but I would say it can get quite Ex­or­cisty. There’s some­thing very dark and danger­ous and sur­pris­ing hap­pen­ing in that house, and you never know where it’s go­ing to man­i­fest next.” The En­field Haunt­ing pre­mieres on Sky Living in May and will be avail­able On De­mand.

Some­body’s forgotten to buy the butterscotch An­gel De­light…

sci- fact! The BBC's sem­i­nal hor­ror mock­u­men­tary Ghost­watch was based on the En­field

Poltergeist case.

He was very close to fig­ur­ing out all the lyrics to the lat­est chart hit.

And there was no phone hack­ing in­volved, okay?

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