TV review: The Enfield Haunting, Sky Living (4 stars)

Matthew McFadyen and Timothy Spall investigate paranormal activity in 1970s London

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TV review: The Enfield Haunting, Sky Living

Far too many horror movies and TV shows claim to be 'based on real events'. However, The Enfield Haunting has more entitlement to this boast than most. This three-part drama is based on Guy Playfair's book, This House is Haunted, which catalogues his experiences in a suburban council house in 1977 and features what is apparently the most documented poltergeist in the UK.

On screen, the entity seems to have latched onto young Janet Hodgson (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) as things start to go bump in the night. Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall) becomes fascinated with the story and heads to investigate. He's soon joined by fellow Society for Psychical Research member Playfair (Matthew McFadyen) as they try to ascertain whether this is a genuine haunting, an elaborate hoax or a case of group psychosis.

The show is a world away from American Horror Story's slick frights and polished production. Like recent found footage phenomenon Paranormal Activity, it's the normality that really works in The Enfield Haunting's favour. The everyday nondescript setting brings the horror home, and there's a wonderful attention to period detail, while director Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing) nails the grey-gloomy atmosphere.

The quality of acting lifts the entire show, in particular Spall, who is haunted in his own way by the death of his daughter, and young actress Worthington-Cox. In this opening episode, Juliet Stevenson is criminally underused in her role as Maurice's wife – hopefully that'll change as the series progresses. The Enfield Haunting is at its most creepy when it keeps the scares subtle rather than when it resorts to occasional cheap shock tactics. Let's hope they manage to maintain this level of spooky tension throughout the remaining two episodes, as this could be the best British ghost story we've seen on TV in years.

The Enfield Haunting premieres on Sky Living, Sun 3 May. Read our interview with Timothy Spall.

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