BBC, 2017

“Above all, it was confirmation that Vanessa Engle is the most important and original documentary maker working in British television today.”
The Daily Telegraph

This film tells the extraordinary story of a Maoist collective that began life in Brixton in the early 1970s.  This revolutionary left-wing grouping appeared to disband in 1978, but a sensational news story broke in 2013, when three women escaped from a house in Brixton and revealed that this tiny political sect had in fact become a cult where a group of women had been living for decades, brutally controlled by Aravindan Balakrishnan, a man they believed to be an all-powerful leader, who had brainwashed and psychologically imprisoned them.  One of the women, Katy Morgan-Davies, was born into the sect in 1983 and rarely left the house until her dramatic escape aged 30 in 2013.  The film features exclusive interviews with two of the women who escaped -  Aisha Wahab, a 72 year old Malaysian woman who was part of Balakrishnan’s group for forty years, and Katy Morgan-Davies, Balakrishnan’s daughter, who had spent her entire life in captivity.  The film gives a definitive account of the cult from its inception in 1976 up until January 2016, when Balakrishnan was sentenced to 23 years in prison for child cruelty, false imprisonment, rape and indecent assault. 


“A chilling documentary by the award-winning producer Vanessa Engle, as bizarre as it is utterly astounding.  A devastating piece of television which at times seems more like a sci-fi drama than a documentary, so outlandish are the events depicted.”
The Daily Mail
“Vanessa Engle’s latest doc tells the stranger-than-fiction story of a Maoist cult based in a Brixton flat.  A profoundly disturbing and incredibly poignant documentary”
The Guardian
“As a dutiful reviewer, I always note down anything in a programme that’s particularly interesting or extraordinary. With The Cult Next Door, I achieved a new personal best for volume of notes taken, as almost every moment brought new, eye-popping disclosures”
The Spectator
“The extraordinary story could have been told within the very ordinary parameters of an investigative documentary. But The Cult Next Door was a sometimes poetic film which hummed with humanity. This should come as no surprise, as director Vanessa Engle, who has previously tackled subjects as diverse as dog walking, dieting and domestic violence, is always strikingly individualistic, catching strange glimpses which more workaday programme-makers would miss. The Cult Next Door was many things – an evocative history of dissent, a poignant study of lives lost in a bizarre parallel world and a warning to us all that we should not let suspicious behaviour go unreported. Above all, it was confirmation that Vanessa Engle is the most important and original documentary maker working in British television today”
The Telegraph
“It’s an extraordinary story. But the documentary adds a lot more to what we already know, helps us to understand how this could have happened. Engle has exclusive interviews with two of the three woman who escaped from the house. She is excellent – gently gaining their trust, while probing and being thorough. When there’s humour, she and her film aren’t afraid to acknowledge it. But when more rigorous questioning is required, such as trying to find out whether one of the women, Aisha Wahab, was complicit in the abuse, Engle doesn’t hold back.”
The Guardian
“What we got was a very sad, very weird story, but one that gave its participants a certain dignity. This was not a given. Many film-makers might have succumbed to one long raised eyebrow, detailing the oddities of Bala’s cult. Television has a knack of exploiting it subjects, of taking much more from them than it gives back. I didn’t get that impression here, though. Bravo, Engle, for bringing Katy to light.”
The Sunday Times.


Producer/director: VANESSA ENGLE



Archive producer: ANDREW WRIGHT

Assistant producer: CHERYL HOCKEY

Film editor: PAUL CARLIN

Executive producer: PETER DALE