Review: The medium has a message for you all

I don't know what it is about the spirit world but it always appears a little humdrum to me. The writer Radclyffe Hall was a big believer, in common with thousands of others just after the Great War, when mass bereavement fuelled an explosion in spiritualism. She was once reassured to discover that a loved one would be able to enjoy whisky and soda in the great beyond and also had the use of a swimming pool. Mavis, the medium profiled in last night's Everyman (BBC 1) reassured one grieving couple by assuring them that their dead son was now involved in a training programme, helping young people to 'come across'. The pay may not be great, sure, but the job security is matchless.

'They treat us as if we're stupid people,' said Mavis. Up to this point she'd been Julie Walters in one of her more mumsy roles, a touch of genteel twee in the voice - she talked about people being 'poorleh'. Now, though, she was indignant. 'We're ordinary people who have a faculteh that everybody else has but for us it's developed to a great degree.' Gullibility, I assume. We're all credulous to a degree but mediums and their followers have exercised this human attribute until it is so muscular that it can bend iron bars.

Everyman placed its feet carefully here. Mediums are fair game on television but the grief and unhappiness that nourish them are not. You can trample all over the former but it looks very bad if you tread on the latter in the process - if you mistake excess of sorrow for feebleness of intellect, however similar the symptoms may be. So, while a priest offered some anecdotal evidence for the detrimental effects of spiritualism (it slows down the grieving process), for the most part Krishna Govender's film just paid very close attention to Mavis at work. Believers will have gone away with their faith untroubled, probably reinforced. The sceptical won't have missed the small print that revealed how Mavis achieves her effects.

There are no unwilling victims. Her clients want to believe so much that they will gladly convert a stab in the dark into a reverse-charge call from the other side. 'She said, 'I have a message from a boy called Paul,' ' one bereaved relative recalled with awe, oblivious to the fact that almost any name shouted into a crowded hall will find a target somewhere (if he'd been called Septimus, even I would have been impressed). Another woman explained that she hadn't gone to Mavis's sister Joyce, also a medium, because, well, Joyce was a friend and knew her too well. She was very struck, as most viewers will have been until this revelation, by Mavis's detailed knowledge of the drinking habits of the deceased. 'It was just as if she knew them,' she said without irony.

Most telling of all were the scenes in which prospective mediums were taken through the training procedure. 'Would I be right in saying you've lost your husband?' said David, a trainee who had come to spiritualism through the death of his son and who was visibly struggling with a lack of inspiration. 'No . . . he's not in the spirit world,' replied one of his fellow students, '. . . but we are divorced, so in a way he's gone.' 'Loveleh, super,' said Mavis hastily, her desire to encourage David leading her into tactlessness.

Earlier she had been more explicit still, jumping in when an over-eager apprentice had got tangled up in specific detail. 'If you're looking at Rose . . . you can see that Rose's body language is saying to you, 'I do not understand this contact' . . . and what you should do at that stage is stop,' she explained. A con man or a salesman would call this a 'tell', the unconscious sign that shows whether their pitch is working or not. With mediums it's called 'cold reading', a technique that harnesses the client's desperation that the medium to be right. Wrong guesses are discarded instantly as interference on the line, those that get a warmer response are dwelt on. In effect the client says, 'Just a little bit higher' or 'A little to the left', and before long the sensitive medium is scratching them just where it itches.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before