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Skeptical About The Enfield Poltergeist? Let Matthew Macfadyen's Limited Series Sway You

In 2015, the Succession star brought his considerable talent to a limited series about the infamous 1970s haunting.
  • Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall in The Enfield Haunting (Photo: Prime Video)
    Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall in The Enfield Haunting (Photo: Prime Video)

    On the surface, little differentiates Apple's The Enfield Poltergeist from The Enfield Haunting, a dramatized take on the famous case. Released in the U.K. in 2015 (and now streaming on Prime Video and Amazon Freevee), The Enfield Haunting hits many of the same beats as the new docuseries. Both rely heavily on Maurice Grosse's 250 hours of recordings, which describe the alleged paranormal activity in the Hodgson family home in late 1970s London, and use those details to power the plot. However, they diverge when it comes to the conclusion each draws from those recordings: If The Enfield Poltergeist begins from a place of belief, only to raise questions about the Hodgsons' claims by its fourth and final episode, The Enfield Haunting takes the opposite approach as it works to convince the audience that the ghostly disturbances were real.

    While those actively seeking out paranormal content might be slightly more credulous than the average viewer, The Enfield Haunting acknowledges that stories like these are still difficult to believe. That tension drives the first episode, in which single mother Peggy Hodgson (Rosie Cavaliero) turns to Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall) of the Society for Psychical Research for help after her furniture begins moving on its own. While Maurice, who is still new to the world of paranormal research, trusts the Hodgsons immediately, his more experienced partner Guy Lyon Playfair (Matthew Macfadyen, pre-Succession) doubts their version of events.

    Guy has seen a poltergeist up close — he investigated an incident in Brazil in 1973 and published a book on his findings — and he's convinced that's not what's happening here; rather, he believes 11-year-old Janet (Eleanor Worthington Cox) and 13-year-old Margaret (Fern Deacon) are merely playing "a conjuror's trick" to get attention from the media. When Guy learns Maurice's daughter, who died one year prior in a motorcycle accident, was also named Janet, he becomes even more certain that the malicious spirit is a figment of his partner's imagination. "When people scream 'poltergeist,' the first question I always ask is: What's the payoff for them? It couldn't be clearer. You're running away from your grief," he tells Maurice. "You see what you want to see."

    Guy's skepticism, as conveyed through Macfadyen's skilled performance, establishes him as a stand-in for the audience. Like Guy, who refuses to believe it until he sees it for himself, viewers must be presented with visual evidence of the haunting in order to buy the limited series's premise, and as such, director Kristoffer Nyholm and writer Joshua St Johnston take care to depict the phenomena on-screen (something the Apple TV+ docuseries declines to do). They accomplish this goal in frightening scenes filled with jump scares — a washed-out man appears as Janet flips through her View-Master — curious paranormal happenings, and some unexpected humor, as when the spirit mocks the investigators with his foul mouth and football knowledge. Still, it's not until Guy catches the poltergeist strangling Janet with a curtain that he finally comes around, at which point he and Maurice set out to eradicate the ghost from the Hodgson home.

    In the second and third episodes, other investigators, including John Beloff (Simon Chandler) and Anita Gregory (Karen Lewis), visit the house and express their own doubts about the happenings. The conflict between Maurice and Guy and these parapsychologists is grounded in history: In the late 1970s, Beloff and Gregory concluded that the girls were playing pranks on gullible adults. But while these independent accounts play a key role in The Enfield Poltergeist's shift in perspective, they prompt Enfield Haunting to dig in its heels. The finale suggests the family's confession that they "got carried away" while having "a bit of fun" — which is often cited as evidence of their fraud — was coerced, as it was made in order to prevent doctors at a psychiatric facility from performing harmful electroshock therapy on Janet. Once she's home, the limited series doubles down on its commitment to documenting the supernatural threat: Janet sees apparitions in the bathroom mirror, wall tiles fly around rapidly, and a "disobsession" exercise gets out of control when the spirits manifest in multiple people.

    The Enfield Haunting also offers a justification for Maurice's unusual level of commitment to this case — and a theory about why the hauntings increased in intensity before abruptly stopping in 1979. As Guy correctly surmises, Maurice believes his late daughter is attempting to communicate with him via Janet, but he's so desperate to bring her back that he nearly ruins his marriage to Betty (Juliet Stevenson). Even more concerning, by exorcizing the original poltergeist, Maurice and Guy inadvertently let in other spirits, including Janet Grosse, who take up residence in young Janet's body. Only when Maurice, during another disobsession, lets go of his guilt over his daughter's death do she and the other poltergeists leave for good, giving the Hodgsons an opportunity to move on with their lives after two long years.

    Janet Grosse's death is mentioned in the docuseries, but it's introduced as a way to explain why Maurice may have been biased toward believing the Hodgsons, which is a very different takeaway than the one provided by its scripted counterpart. That discrepancy, as well as those related to the confession and the witness testimony in the case, will likely frustrate viewers looking for "the truth" about the infamous haunting. But it also makes The Enfield Haunting all the more interesting, as it offers an example of how the same story and evidence can be interpreted so dissimilarly and woven into two competing, but equally compelling, narratives.

    The Enfield Poltergeist is streaming on Apple TV+. The Enfield Haunting is streaming on Prime Video and Amazon Freevee.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: The Enfield Poltergeist, Amazon Freevee, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, The Enfield Haunting, Matthew Macfadyen, Timothy Spall