TV review: The Living and The Dead, BBC One
- Henry Northmore
- 17 June 2016
Supernatural period drama starring Colin Morgan and Charlotte Spencer
The BBC has a long history producing quality Victorian ghost stories, in particular the wonderful series A Ghost Story for Christmas, which became a festive tradition in the 70s. The Living and the Dead builds on that reputation, with a spooky period drama set in 1894.
After a death in the family, doctor Nathan Appleby (Merlin's Colin Morgan) and his photographer wife Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) find themselves trapped running a rundown farm in Somerset. The obstinate locals resist their attempts to modernise. The local vicar comes calling, seeking help with his daughter Harriet (Tallulah Haddon), a teenage girl who appears to be losing her grip on reality. Nathan searches for a rational medical explanation: is she genuinely haunted, channelling the spirits of the dead, or simply suffering from multiple personality disorder?
Interestingly, the BBC is experimenting with the Netflix model. They've dabbled with early releases on iPlayer before with BBC 3 content, but never with such a high profile BBC One drama, and all episodes will be available as a boxset 11 days before it hits TV.
This meandering opening episode is a perfectly serviceable scene-setter, moodily depicting their dreary rural life. The highlight is the fantastic chemistry between Morgan and Spencer, whose relationship feels effortlessly real. The folksy soundtrack and country setting reminiscent of the pastoral horror of The Wicker Man.
The series was created and written by Ashley Pharoah, co-creator of the bizarre sci-fi/cop/fantasy mashup Life on Mars. The Living and The Dead is more sedate, trampling more obvious ground, drawing on several spooky clichés (faces suddenly appearing in mirrors, creepy Victorian dolls, dead children, etc.) but just when you think you've seen it all before, the closing seconds throw you a massive curve ball that will have you hooked.
The Living and The Dead is viewable on iPlayer from Fri 17 Jun then screens on BBC One, Tue 28 Jun.