Talking To The Dead Review: That’s The Spirit

August 7, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

REVELATIONS – TALKING TO THE DEAD: Sunday 9th August, Channel 4, 7pm Alert Me

I’m not a complete non-believer, but as documentary filmmaker Richard Alwyn would say, ‘I have a healthy scepticism about a belief system that many are quick to ridicule.’

I watched this with an open mind but at the end of the day, it’s pretty hard not to laugh.

In Walthamstow’s National Spiritualist Church, the congregation wait for a message from dead loved ones delivered through a visiting medium. There are no priests at this church, nor any scriptures to be followed. All that’s required is an open mind.

But it’s easy to have an open mind at the beginning of the show. Not so much at the end of it.

Richard Alwyn’s dreamy Derren Brown-style voiceover is rather distracting. His soothing tones instantly make you feel like you’re being hypnotised and depletes his credibility. We can see pretty early on that we’re not actually going to see Richard participate in any meetings. He speaks of his experiences but if we’re not going to see anything, why should we be anymore convinced than Richard? He’s a poor man’s Louis Theroux.

It would be all too easy to dismiss these people’s experiences, even more so with no evidence, but the congregation are obviously in need of this practice. They need to hang onto memories and dust covered photos in order to carry on.

Keith Hudson, vice president of the church, has devoted himself the spiritualist movement. It may feel silly to us, sensible, reasoned people, but Keith is not an idiot. He’s aware of how ridiculous it sounds to everyone else but he let’s people believe what they want. This movement isn’t being pushed and peddled by anyone; there are no leaflets being shoved in my hands at shopping malls and no one’s banging down my door. So it can’t do any harm, can it?

There’s actually a fine line between a spiritual experience and, what we have historically called, mental illness. Something that is not lost on Richard as he interviews one church goer who has a history of schizophrenia. Is it really a good idea to encourage people to hear voices and to see angels?

Richard often uses a doctor who is involved in spiritualism to rationalise the experiences. He thinks that by using a man of science we might take his opinions more seriously. We don’t. Even if you’re a rocket scientist; if you see things then people will think you’re as crazy as a hobo.

With no evidence and no on camera experiences, we just have an elaborate video diary: an interesting one, but not a convincing one.

Emily Moulder