The Burning Girls, based on CJ Tudor’s novel, which is inspired by real events, takes us inside the Sussex village of Chapelcroft, where a new Reverend arrives after the mysterious death of her predecessor. Jack Brooks was not how one would have imagined a Reverend to be. She was progressive, and she was not blinded by her faith. Brooks always felt that she was called there by the higher power to fulfill some specific purpose, and gradually, we realized that she was absolutely right. So, let’s find out what was happening in Chapelcroft and what role our protagonist, Jack Brooks, has to play in it.
Why was Jack sent to Chapelcroft?
Jack Brooks had no clue at the beginning of The Burning Girls that she was being sent to Chapelcroft because the reverend before her had committed suicide. Reverend Fletcher had hanged himself inside the chapel itself, and people thought that it was because of the dark spirits that he had met such a fate. The town had a tragic history where, back in 1556, two girls by the names of Abigail and Maggie Carfer were burned alive. Thirty years ago, something similar happened in the same town. Two 15-year-old girls, Joy Harris and Merrie Joanne Lane disappeared without a trace. People said that they had run off together, but there was no strong evidence to corroborate that theory that had been conveniently accepted by the town dwellers. Fletcher was one of those cynics who believed that the town dwellers were hiding something, and he became so obsessed with finding the truth that he started his own investigation, and he also ended up making a lot of discoveries.
Apart from the suicide of Reverend Fletcher, something had happened with Jack back in Nottingham, which forced her to move and go to a new location where no one knew her. A girl named Ruby had been murdered in her church, and the media and the society blamed Jack for not informing the authorities that she was in danger. Ruby used to live with her aunt, and every time she came to the church, Jack noticed that she had bruises all over her body. Jack had realized that the little girl was being abused by her aunt, and she had informed the social services about it, too. The aunt always used to make some kind of excuse, and the social services people also did not dig into the matter. Jack wanted to go after Ruby’s aunt, but the latter had threatened her by saying that she would report in the media that the reverend was a religious homophobe and that she was framing her only because she was gay. Jack knew that the image of the church was pretty bad when it came to such matters, so she left them be, and that was probably the biggest mistake she committed. When the media and the people blamed Jack for the death of Ruby, she didn’t put up a defense, as she also felt that she was guilty, and had she not gotten scared for her image, the little girl would have still been alive.
What was Simon Harper hiding?
The Harper family was one of the most influential families, and Jack got off on the wrong foot with them, unintentionally. Poppy Harper, daughter of Simon Harper, came to the chapel when Jack had just arrived there with her daughter, Flo. Poppy was smeared in blood, and Flo got scared looking at her. Simon came to the scene and asked Jack to back off. He told her that Poppy had accidentally entered the slaughterhouse, which is why she had blood on her. Simon was extremely rude in the way he behaved, and Jack didn’t like his haughtiness. Jack was immediately told by Reverend Rushton not to mess with the Harper family, as they were one of the primary benefactors of the church, and they did a lot for the parish. In addition, Simon Harper’s ancestors, James Oswald Harper, Andrew John Harper, and Lucinda Harper, were the ones who had been martyred in 1556 together with the two girls, Abigail and Maggie, which accorded Simon and his family almost royal status.
We came to know quite early in The Burning Girls that Simon Harper was hiding something, and he was not as noble and giving as he pretended to be. Simon was very dominating, and he always had his way. He mentally and physically abused his wife, Fiona, and he turned a blind eye to whatever his daughter, Rosie, did. Flo and Jack had been suffering from horrific hallucinations where they saw the two little girls who had been burned to death back in the day. One day, Flo saw such an apparition, and she went inside the chapel to find out what it was. Flo saw the girls burning right in front of her eyes, and her leg got stuck in the floor, which gave way, exposing a secret room hidden beneath it. Jack went inside it because she had a very strong intuition that the apparition of the girls was trying to tell her something.
Jack’s intuition was right, and she found the graves of Simon’s ancestors hidden in that room. Jack realized that Simon’s ancestors were never martyred, and they had, in fact, taken money from the authorities and backstabbed Abigail and Maggie, because of which they had been caught. James Oswald Harper had bought the land on which Simon currently lived using that same money. Simon threatened Jack that he would destroy her life if she told anyone about it, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop Jack, and so in front of the entire congregation, he said that he had no clue that his ancestors were traitors before even Jack could say anything against him. Simon thought that he could get the better of everybody, but he was wrong, as there were a lot of things that were not under his control, and it was just a matter of time until he found himself in a mess.
Who killed Reverend Fletcher?
Flo had gotten close to a boy named Lucas Wrigley, who suffered from a neurological condition that looked something like Tourette syndrome, where his neck used to twitch repeatedly. Jack was always suspicious of Lucas, and she felt that whenever he was around, something bad happened to Flo. One time, her leg got stuck on the floor of the chapel, and the next time, she was bullied and harassed by Rosie and her cousin. In The Burning Girls episode 5, we came to know that Lucas and Rosie were lovers, and they were purposely targeting the Brooks family because they didn’t want Jack to be snooping around in Simon’s matters. Simon had already murdered his aunt, Saffron Winter, who was a famous writer, and then, together with Rosie, he had killed Reverend Fletcher, too.
Reverend Fletcher was obsessed with the mystery of missing girls, and he had started seeing Saffron a lot lately since she had written a nonfiction novel named The Cursed Village, for which she had done a lot of research work about the history of the town. Probably, Lucas did not like Reverend Fletcher coming in between his aunt and him, and additionally, the man also got to know that Simon’s ancestors were not martyrs. Rosie and Lucas made it look like a suicide and then killed the reverend. They wanted to put Brooks to a similar fate once she came to know that Saffron had been murdered and that it was Wrigley who was behind it. Rosie and Wrigley brought both Jack and Flo to the chapel, but Jack was able to get the better of them. She stabbed Wrigley, and then, with the help of the vagrant (whom we later came to know was her brother), she escaped from there, and Wrigley was burned to death inside the church.
Simon would have once again given an alibi for his daughter, but this time, his wife, Fiona, gave a testimony that made it difficult for the authorities to leave her. Fiona knew that Rosie was suffering from some mental disorder, and that she had intentionally killed Mike’s daughter. The authorities reopened the case of Mike’s daughter as they came to the realization that it was not an accident. Mike was also relieved, as he got closure, and he felt like his daughter could now rest in peace. Simon was still defending his daughter, but we hope that he eventually realizes that he was not helping her cause and that she needed psychiatric help before things got out of hand.
What did Benjamin Grady do?
The town had a history of demonizing women whenever they felt that they were of a nonconforming nature. It was the easiest way to make them fall in line and tell them that in a patriarchal society, they didn’t have the liberty to voice their concerns or opinions. They were mere puppets who had to act in accordance with the whims and fancies of their male counterparts. But Merrie Joanne Lane was one such girl who didn’t get subdued by the prejudices of society. She was a nightmare for the conservatives, and her own mother believed her to be possessed by some evil spirits. Merrie was very close to a girl named Joy, and together, they had planned that one day they would run away from this god-forsaken town. But things changed when Joy fell in love with a curate named Benjamin Grady. Benjamin had a sexual relationship with Joy, and he told her that one day they would live together. But Benjamin got scared when he got to know that Joy was pregnant, and he threatened her never to tell anyone about it, or he would ruin her life. Joy went to Merrie and told her all about it. Merrie assured her that they would figure out a way to get her pregnancy aborted. The girls had planned to meet the next evening and leave the town.
Around that time in The Burning Girls, Merrie’s mother had asked Benjamin Grady to come to her house and perform an exorcism on Merrie, as she believed that there were evil spirits inside her. Benjamin Grady was a pervert of the highest order, and he used to rape and hurt Merrie in each and every session. When Joy was waiting for her friend outside her house, Merrie was lying inside her room, facing all the torture. That day, Merrie’s brother, Jacob, just could not bear the pain of seeing his sister in such a state any longer. He stabbed Benjamin Grady, and then Merrie made sure that he died. Merrie went to call Joy, but she was nowhere to be found. She came back to her place to see that Reverend Marsh, Warden Aaron’s father, who was the chief presiding officer of the chapel back then, had come to her house to dispose of Benjamin Grady’s body. The dead body was kept in the same vault where Simon had hidden the coffins of his ancestors. Earlier, in The Burning Girls, when Jack had found the secret vault, she realized that Grady’s body also lay there, but she was not able to establish how it had reached there. So nobody actually knew what had happened to Joy and Merrie after that fateful day—if they were dead or alive. But one thing that had been established was that the church had tried to hide the sins of its clergymen from the world.
Are Merrie and Joy dead or alive?
By the 5th episode, though we had an idea of how Joy and Merrie had been abused by Grady, we still had no clue where they were or what had happened to them. But Jack knew what she was doing, and after the bones of an old woman were procured from the well near Merrie’s house, in which Lucas had fallen, she was able to connect the dots. The biggest revelation in The Burning Girls is when we come to know that Jack is actually Merrie Joanne Lane, who had somehow managed to escape from the town and become a pastor. That young man, whom we had seen being released from prison and killing the reverend in Nottingham, was Merrie’s brother, Jacob. It seemed like, in the beginning, he wanted to hurt Jack, but we realized that he just wanted to protect her. Merrie, aka Jack, had not been able to take Jacob with her, and she always had that regret because she knew the kind of torture he would have gone through at the hands of their own mother.
Jacob had killed his mother and then killed Jack’s husband, too, as he used to abuse her. Now, he had come back to his hometown and saved his sister’s life once again. But killing someone at such an early age had an adverse impact on little Jacob’s subconscious mind, and after that fateful night, he was never the same again. That was the damage Benjamin Grady had done, and Jack hoped that he never got peace, and he writhed in agony even in his grave. Jack had realized that Reverend Marsh didn’t know how to drive, and so that day, when he was carrying Grady’s body out of his house, it was someone else who had driven him to the chapel. She went and asked him if the person who had helped him was who she thought he was, and she cursed him to rot in hell.
Reverend Rushton’s wife, Clara, was infatuated with Benjamin Grady, like many other girls during that time. She didn’t like that Joy used to spend time with him and how he gave her special treatment. So, the last straw in the series of mishaps was when Clara killed Joy when the latter was waiting for Merrie to come and take her to the city for an abortion.
During The Burning Girls‘ ending, Jack finally confronted Clara and told her how wrong she was to think that Benjamin Grady was the man of her life. She told her how he used to molest her, and even after listening to that, Clara couldn’t believe it. Joy’s mother, who had been waiting for all those years for her daughter to return, was informed that she had died 30 years ago. Clara also attended the funeral, and though she seemed fine, we don’t know how someone would absolve them of the guilt of taking the life of an innocent person. Jack decided to retire as she felt that she had enough, and now, whatever time was left, she wanted to spend it with her daughter. They left for Australia together, away from all the madness, probably to settle down there. We hope that they will have a happy life and that they will be able to get over the trauma of their past lives.
Is it based on a true story?
The backdrop of The Burning Girls takes its inspiration from a real-life incident that took place in East Sussex sometime in 1556, where a group of 17 protestants were burned alive. Every year, their deaths were commemorated, and they were given the status of martyrs. In the series, we are shown that Abigail and Maggie were martyred in a similar manner, and the society used to hold these annual commemoration ceremonies where they came and burned effigies to honor the dead. The series builds upon these historical events and weaves a fictional narrative around them, where the main agenda becomes to show how easy it is to demonize women, question their character, and subject them to cruelty under the pretext of religion. In The Burning Girls series, as well as in our society, it is a practice that has been used for ages to curb the freedom and liberty of women. It was easy for society to brand Merrie as a corrupt element, but nobody saw what Benjamin Grady was doing with the girls. Even after his crimes came to light, the church tried its level best to save its image and hid the fact from the general public for almost three decades. We are not saying anywhere that faith in the institution is wrong, but turning a blind eye to the atrocities and hypocrisy is not justified.