Review: Apparitions 1×1

An exercise in exorcism


In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, BBC1

You know, for an awful 20 minutes or so, I thought this was going to be bad. Not Bonekickers bad, simply daft. Because it’s very, very easy when you’re dealing with demons, exorcisms and faith to put one foot wrong and mess the whole thing up.

Certainly, Apparitions starts off by putting that foot right into its mouth, revisiting 1997 and the death of Mother Theresa.

Who might have been possessed by a demon.

See what I mean?

Plot (from the overly long, excessively spoilery press release)
is a hard-hitting new drama that takes us on a terrifying journey into a world of possession and satanic conspiracy. All out war between good and evil is imminent and it’s time to choose sides.

Martin Shaw stars as Father Jacob, a Roman Catholic priest who is working to promote candidates for sainthood but is drawn against his will into the world of exorcism.

The idea for the series came from Martin himself as he had long wanted to play an exorcist. It was subsequently picked up and developed further by Joe Ahearne (This Life, Ultraviolet, Doctor Who).

Tony Wood, Creative Director of Lime Pictures, says: “Joe Ahearne has created a gripping story of intrigue and mystery which raises as many questions as it answers.

“Martin Shaw is the perfect choice to play the lead role in this bold series, a very different and darker acting challenge to that which the audience will have seen him in before.”

The cast for Apparitions features John Shrapnel (The Duchess, Elizabeth, Gladiator) as Cardinal Bukovak, Jacob’s boss who keeps a close watch on his every move; Luigi Diberti (Immortal Beloved) plays Monsignor Vincenzo, Rome’s chief exorcist who is soon to retire and wants Jacob to take over from him; Elyes Gabel (Casualty) is pre-ordained priest Vimal who suffers torment at the hands of Michael, a possessed homeless man, played by Rick Warden (Band Of Brothers, Trial And Retribution, Rome).

Michelle Joseph (A Touch Of Frost, In Deep) is Jacob’s aide, Sister Anne, who chooses to look for good rather than evil but remains resolutely loyal to Jacob.

Siobhan Finneran (Benidorm, Boy A) is Sister Ruth who joins the series from episode two when she’s sent from Rome to monitor Jacob’s activities.

Guest stars also include Shaun Dooley (Mark Of Cain, The Street) as single dad Liam, accused by his daughter of possession in episodes one and two.

Guest starring in episode three is Neil Pearson (The Booze Cruise, Drop The Dead Donkey, Bridget Jones’ Diary) and Elizabeth Berrington (In Bruges, Moving Wallpaper).

Neil plays the role of Lassiter, a prison governor who calls for Jacob’s help when Cory, one of the inmates, shows signs of possession, while Elizabeth plays Kim, the mother of one of Cory’s victims.

Episode four features Claudia Harrison (Murphy’s Law, Attachments) as Janice, who runs a women’s health clinic and comes to Jacob in desperation when there appear to be demonic forces attacking her patients.

Adrian Bower (Teachers, Talk To Me) also guest stars as Simon, a possessed man who is trying to orchestrate a series of satanic births.

And in episode six there’s a surprise appearance from Cherie Lunghi (Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, Cutting It) who plays a woman who encounters Jacob at his lowest ebb.

Apparitions is a six-part 60-minute drama written by Joe Ahearne (This Life, Ultraviolet, Doctor Who).

Joe also directed four episodes with John Strickland (Bodies, Clocking Off) directing episodes three and four.

The producers are Anne Harrison-Baxter (Wild At Heart, Waterloo Road), who produced episodes one and two, and Caroline Levy (Cape Wrath), who produced episodes three to six.

The Executive Producers are Matthew Read and Anne Mensah (BBC) and, for Lime Pictures, Carolyn Reynolds and Tony Wood.

Apparitions is a Lime Pictures production for BBC One.

Is it any good?
Once we leave Mother Theresa and get out of the first 20 minutes of deathly dull and painfully bad set-up in which we find out Martin Shaw wants to canonise Mother Theresa by telling crap jokes, Apparitions starts to come into its own.

Like Ultraviolet before it – also written by Joe Ahearne – Apparitions tries to ask the hard question, “What if the supernatural were really real? No, really real. How would we react? What would you do and say in that situation?”, and then ask hard moral questions. Would it be acceptable to sacrifice one person for another if it would save lives, even if you’re a priest, for example?

Like The Exorcist, to which there’s an occasional visual reference, Apparitions piles on the logic and evidence that its secular characters (and audience) need to be convinced that demons are real – maybe a little too slowly, but the steely conviction of Martin Shaw and the performance of guest star Shaun Dooley as a potentially possessed man was enough to keep you going through the slower parts.

Unlike The Exorcist, the basic message of which was “become Catholic immediately”, Apparitions is not convinced the Catholics have it right either, though, with a gay priest-to-be being treated abysmally by his superiors and its depiction of the frequent sins committed by those at the top.

It’s a little too BBC1 for the possessed to be swearing like troopers, but it’s not completely toothless – there was one scene towards the end of deep unpleasantry and there were various hints about what the demons were going to go that were quite close to the knuckle, too. Which I think we’ve all got to applaud.

More likely to affect a thinking person, with its intelligent horror and the battles between atheism and theism, than the true gore lover, it doesn’t quite hit Ultraviolet‘s quality levels, not least because we don’t really care much about the relatively unsympathetic priesthood yet and everything’s a bit inexplicable at the moment. All the same, worth tuning in for next week, I reckon, if only to catch Joe Ahearne’s direction.

Here’s a YouTube trailer.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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