The Enfield Haunting

by Matthew E Banks ©2015

Enfield HauntingOn a sweltering day in August 1977, a telephone call to the police lead into what has been described as ‘the most documented account of poltergeist activity in British History;’ and has divided experts and critics alike for over forty years.

“Just before I died, I went blind and then I had a haemorrhage and I fell asleep, and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.”

A long since dead man speaks through an 11 year old girl, furniture is thrown in the air, flying objects are hurled towards witnesses, people are levitated, cold breezes, physical assaults, graffiti appearing on the walls, water appearing on the floor and matches spontaneously combusting. This is not Borley Rectory or events at Amityville, these are just some of the alleged incidents that occurred at a semi-detached council house in Green Street, Enfield and terrified the family that lived there. Single parent Peggy Hodgson and her four children, Margaret, 13, Janet, 11, Johnny, 10 and Billy, 7 were forced to sleep with the light on as they were that afraid of what might happen, should they turn the lights off. Most of the activity centred on Janet, who is seen in one famous photograph being levitated off of her bed.

The case became known as The Enfield Poltergeist and was the inspiration for Stephen Volk’s 1992 mockumentary Ghost Watch on BBC Television. In 2007, Interview With A Poltergeist a documentary on the case aired on Channel Four, and it has also been featured in episodes of Strange But True? and Extreme Ghost Stories. In 2016 the case will explode onto the cinematic screen in The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist.

Now SkyLiving has broadcast a three part dramatization of the case, adapted from Guy Lyon Playfair’s book, ‘This House Is Haunted’ by Joshua St. Johnston and directed by The Killing’s Kristoffer Nyholm. The Enfield Haunting stars Timothy Spall as SPR investigator Maurice Grosse, with Juliet Stevenson as his wife, Betty, Matthew Macfadyen as fellow SPR investigator and sceptic Guy Lyon Playfair, and Janet played by Eleanor Worthington Cox, the youngest recipient of the Lawrence Oliver Awards.

Throughout the three episodes is the running thread of the death of Grosse’s daughter and how that affected him, his family and his role in the investigation. As producer Adrian Sturges said: “So we took the original true story and wanted to make it a proper drama. So while we’ve been respectful of the real elements we wanted to tell a version of it that would be dramatic and entertaining, whilst also respecting the true elements.”

Though many of the elements have been seen in other films – furniture moved and drawers opened (The Sixth Sense), banging on the walls (The Haunting), the use of a medium (Night of the Demon) and of course talking in different voices / exorcism (The Exorcist), what makes this drama so compelling is that it is based on documented FACT. The incidents that are dramatized happened to real people who did not understand or comprehend what was happening to them.

Maurice Grosse died on October 14th 2006, a well-respected member of The Society of Psychical Research believing that the Hodgsons had been terrorised by a poltergeist, despite knowing that the girls had ‘faked’ some of the events (having been caught out). Spall plays the inventor and ghost-hunter in a retrained manner, allowing the viewer to feel the inner turmoil of the man who has just lost his daughter and Juliet Stevenson as his wife, gives both their characters the voice of the audience, who want to know if there is something more after we pass on. Do we just cease to exist or is there something else for us. The strength of their performances brings to life Maurice and his wife. Matthew Macfadyen as Guy Lyon Playfair brings an air of authority as the sceptical investigator, who ends up believing. Yet the whole programme hinges on the believability of Worthington Cox as the tormented Janet, and she delivers on every level, giving a tour-de-force performance that has you spell-bound from the very beginning.

If the programme does anything, I think that it would make people take a good hard look at the case through fresh eyes, and taking out the elements that the girls were caught faking, there is simply too much evidence for it not to have been a real occurrence.

Enfield Haunting