Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto begins with the celebrated phrase, "A spectre
is haunting Europe". In 'The Exorcism', writer-director Don Taylor extrapolates
this into a frightening dissection of the bourgeoisie, told in the form of a
traditional ghost story. Edmund and his wife Rachel renovate a remote cottage in
the country and invite their friends Dan and Margaret to have Christmas dinner
there. Through the course of the next 45 minutes, they are brutally forced by
supernatural means to confront the literal and figurative foundations of their
Taylor made the play shortly after returning to the BBC after several years
during which, he claimed, he was essentially blacklisted for his political
views. Although reminiscent of Luis Buñuel's absurdist comedy The Exterminating
Angel (Mexico, 1967), in which dinner guests find that they can no longer leave
their home, 'The Exorcism' is a truly singular horror allegory that can be
described quite fairly as a 'socialist' ghost story.
Taylor contrasts Edmund and Rachel with Edmund's die-hard socialist father,
and soon they prove to be highly vulnerable to the power of the haunted cottage.
Even their emphatically scientific friend Margaret proves susceptible to
irrational fear when her husband Dan blindfolds her. Anna Cropper as Rachel
provides a real tour-de-force in her climactic possession scene, though Clive
Swift as Dan gets the best dialogue ("I think we should concentrate on how to be
socialists and rich"). At the end of the play, when he tells Margaret not to be
frightened as they have been privileged, it is both stirring and unsettling.
Apart from a brief and chilling epilogue, the drama's events are presented in
real time, and this, combined with the small cast and simple setting facilitated
its subsequent adaptation for radio and the stage. Like Dennis Potter's 'Blue
Remembered Hills' (Play for Today, BBC tx. 30/1/1979), it has proved highly
popular with small theatre companies, especially around Christmas time. It
briefly gained a sad notoriety when Mary Ure committed suicide just a few nights
into a run of the production in 1975.
Although produced as a stand-alone work, the play was shown as part of the
supernatural anthology series Dead of Night (BBC, 1972), which took its title
from Ealing Studios' 1945 eponymous portmanteau film. Of the other six plays,
only two are known to have survived: Robert Holmes' 'Return Flight' (tx.
12/11/1972) and John Bowen's 'A Woman Sobbing' (tx.