Recently my wife and I watched a three-part ITV adaptation of Phil Rickman‘s second Merrily Watkins novel “Midwinter Of The Spirit”.
I believe that the TV people chose this book to start a potential series with as it was the book in which Merrily first got involved in exorcism – or deliverance as it’s termed here – giving opportunity for a nice paranormal drama.
The synopsis for the novel reads as follows : “They’ll follow you home… breathe down your phone at night… a prime target for every psychotic grinder of the dark satanic mills that ever sacrificed a chicken…’
Diocesan Exorcist: a job viewed by the Church of England with such extreme suspicion that they changed the name.
It’s Deliverance Consultant now. Still, it seems, no job for a woman. But when the Bishop offers it to Merrily Watkins, parish priest and single mum, she’s in no position to refuse.
It starts badly for Merrily and gets no easier. As an early winter slices through the old city of Hereford, a body is found in the River Wye, an ancient church is desecrated and signs of evil appear in the cathedral itself, where the tomb of a medieval saint lies in pieces.”
Now, I believe that I have previously mentioned that I have yet to read the early books in the series so I cannot directly compare the source novel with the TV version. I can, however, comment on the TV series as a standalone piece of work and also my observations with regards to characters that I do know through the books in the series that I have read.
The series opens with a dead man, wearing a crown of barbed-wire, strung up in a crucifixion pose in trees in rural Herefordshire. Police detective DS Francis Bliss (Simon Trinder – “Anton Chekhov’s The Duel”) is investigating with his boss DCI Annie Howe (Kate Dickie – “Red Road”, “Filth”) and they decide to ask advice from a religious expert – enter Merrily Watkins.
Merrily (Anna Maxwell Martin – “Philomena”, “Becoming Jane”) is on a course to become a deliverance specialist for the church, seemingly much to the displeasure of her tutor Huw Owen (David Threlfall – “Hot Fuzz”, “Shameless”). Before long the pair are immersed in the mystery as the dead man turns out to have been a Satanist and various other dubious characters make their appearances.
Meanwhile, Merrily’s troubled teenage daughter Jane (Sally Messham) is befriended by fellow teen Rowenna Napier (Leila Mimmack – “Son Of God”, “High-Rise”), who has troubles of her own. So much so that she has a social worker, Lol Robinson (Ben Bailey Smith – “Hunted”, “Law & Order UK”) assigned to look after her case.
OK, so as a piece of TV I felt that it worked fairly well. My wife, who hadn’t read any of the books had a hard time keeping up with who was who and what their connections to each other were, so I suppose a knowledge of the main characters from having read some of the books was an advantage for me – but many viewers may have felt as my wife did. She did also find the character of Merrily to be irritating with her dithering whilst I thought that was somewhat in keeping with the character I had encountered in Rickman’s books.
I can’t say that any of those characters looked much like the ones I had developed in my head while reading – I imagine that this is a familiar sensation for anyone seeing a literary character they know making the transition to the screen. I must say though, and I know I’m far from alone in this, that I felt changing the character of Lol from a white folk musician to a black social worker was taking things too far from the source material.
So, despite not having read the specific book, I am confident that the novel is more than likely far superior to the TV adaptation. That said, I did enjoy the programme for what it was and probably would have even more if I could have completely overlooked the obvious character differences…