The Living and the Dead: Episode 1
The 19th Century is the ideal setting for ghost stories; grand houses littered with eerie porcelain dolls, rocking horses and a lack of electricity make ghostly inhabitations seem commonplace. It was the Victorians who first found thrill in the frightening, and The Living and the Dead is definitely frightening. The first episode was broadcast on BBC One earlier this evening, although the entire series is available to stream on BBC iPlayer (and having watched the first episode, it’s very likely that you’ll want to go ahead and watch the rest).
At the beginning of the first episode, we are introduced to Harriet Denning (Tallulah Haddon), a young girl obsessed with the supernatural. Unbeknownst to her cynical parents, Harriet falls victim to a sinister spirit – the ghost of a dead farm worker by the name of Abel North (David Sterne). Meanwhile, Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) and his wife Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) arrive at the farm to coincide with his mother’s death. Viewers will instantly recognise Morgan from 2008 BBC series Merlin, and whilst his performance in that was spectacular, his incredibly ability as an actor is fully realised in The Living and the Dead. Nathan Appleby is a former psychologist and so his eventual approach to treating the possessed Harriet comes primarily from a scientific standpoint. But the treatment does not come before the possessed young girl causes the violent death of farm worker John Roebuck (Steve Oram).
It’s a great ghost story, one that your dad might’ve told you when you were a child…and it might’ve been just that, had the ending not been so unexpected. In the final moments of the first episode when all curing of demonic curses appeared to have been completed, Appleby spies a light coming from behind a door in the middle of the night. Going out to investigate, he stands awestruck in the face of a girl clad in modern clothing holding an iPad. “WHAT?!”, I exclaimed in this moment. This is a series set in the late 19th century, is there some kind of wormhole in space and time? I guess all will be revealed.
The Living and the Dead is a classic pastoral tale; the introduction of a traction engine to the bucolic landscape acts as a metaphor for the disruption of the peace. And John Roebuck’s horrific death at the mechanical hands of the machine only intensifies this feeling. Steve Oram is brilliant in this series as he is in everything else I’ve seen him in. The star of Sightseers (one of my favourite films) shines for the brief time he’s in the first episode.
Tallulah Haddon is also astounding in this incredibly challenging role. The way in which she manipulates her own voice to project those of the spirits in this supernatural drama is both impressive and terrifying. There were so many moments this evening when I hid my eyes with a cushion for fear of sudden jumps and scary moments.
It’s not your typical ghost story, but it’s a good one. Although I’ve only seen the first episode so far, I can say with confidence it’s the most original series on telly right now. In the coming weeks, I hope to see more of the brilliant confusion with dysfunctional timelines, more of the scares, and more of the incredible cast (Robert Emms and Pooky Quesnal were hardly in the first episode). I have high hopes for this series, and that’s thanks to its incredible opener.
The Living and the Dead continues next Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One (05/07/16), or watch the entire series now on BBC iPlayer.