The Living And The Dead. It’s all not going on

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The Living And The Dead. It’s all not going on

June 29, 2016 - 14:09
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Moving at the speed of a snail on tranquillizers, the Beeb’s new ghost drama The Living And The Dead is terrifying. As in terrifyingly slow.

The Living and the Dead

Moving at the speed of a snail on tranquillizers, the Beeb’s new ghost drama The Living And The Dead is terrifying. As in terrifyingly slow.

Welcome to the village of the damned as a bunch of rustic Victorians experience all manner of spooky goings-on and a psychologist turned Somerset farmer rides to the rescue with his story-killing logical explanations.

Amid clunking scenes of spooky solstice bonfires and all-round rural creepiness, the non-action limps along with a pervasive lethargy. And the laid-back acting is so drearily dreamy it’s frighteningly hard to stay awake.

There’s a weird back-to-the-future vibe as our 19th century heroes look to the sky where jet plane vapours soar above. And, oh my God, there’s a thoroughly modern woman with an iPad. A warping of the time and space continuum. As seen on Doctor Who every week.

If you want to slog through the entire series, all six episodes are available on iPlayer. Would the BBC have done this with Line Of Duty or Happy Valley? Or did someone decide that these tame tales of the supernatural were never going to hold a sizeable audience’s attention? Might as well stick ‘em online.

Anyway, the first instalment featured a vicar’s scary daughter possessed by some dead guy who was fed up because he wasn’t baptized. A feeble excuse for poor-man’s Exorcist sequences as the ghoul-girl writhed around in a graveyard and spoke in voices. Spine-chilling it wasn’t.

Meanwhile, the laconic locals harvested the land and one of them topped himself by lying on the ground and waiting for a horse-drawn plough to slice him to death. Who said suicide was painless?

Into this strange world of ancient rituals and furtive glances stepped Nathan Appleby, a Freudian sophisticate who inherited the family farm and swapped London for the country idyll and all of its alleged joys.

Evil spirit denier Nathan is played by Colin Morgan of Humans and Merlin fame. Charlotte Spencer takes on the role of his wife – er – Charlotte, who is controversially keen on mechanising the antediluvian agricultural methods that haven’t changed for centuries. Naturally, the smock wearing peasants are resistant to progress.

It’s not that The Living And The Dead is without any merit. Beautifully filmed, its production values are impressively high. But the lack of narrative pace is disastrous. So far it’s all foreboding… and not much else. The whole thing needs to get a move on. Fast.

There are 2 Comments

Anna May's picture

When I heard The Living and the Dead was written by Ashley Pharoah, co-writer of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, I was very interested, to say the least. All that time-twisting madness really caught me off guard back then and I even found myself going back to revisit and relive the feelings and emotions both stories inspired. Not just because of the great writing, but also the amazing use of 80s music, which took me right back in time and made me feel close to it, part of it, believing of it.

However, after setting aside time to watch the entire series of The Living and the Dead, I am not left with the same inclination. Maybe the dreary Victorian theme and lack of backstory for individual characters failed to connect me with them enough...I don't know.

The story, set in 1894, is pretty straightforward. Colin Morgan plays Nathan, who returns with his wife, Charlotte, to the village he grew up in…to spend time with his mother before she dies. This happens almost immediately and he decides to leave his high-profile job as a psychologist in London to remain in the village of Shepzoy and take over the family farm, whilst also counselling anyone who might appear to be mad. Of course, his wife also can’t wait to forget London and become a farmer herself.

In the very first scenes we’re shown how committed this pair of lovebirds are to each other and how romantic and fun their relationship still is. This is made even more evident as Charlotte, played by Charlotte Spencer, is chased across a field and wrestled to the ground in the long grass by her adoring husband. Only a truly besotted woman would risk her long white dress being smeared with fresh duck poo as she rolls about laughing on her back (because, believe me, it stinks).

What seems to be an unbreakable bond soon begins to fall apart, as the village is turned upside-down by the sinister goings on Nathan's return has obviously prompted. Here we have possessions, hauntings and the obligatory vicar to complement each situation as it arises.

Added to this, we quickly find out Nathan had a son from a previous marriage, who died as a very young boy. This has a huge impact on the storyline and there are a few flashes of inexplicable sightings, which spark Nathan’s obsession with finding out the truth about Shepzoy and its ghostly inhabitants.

For me, these flashes are too few and far between and don’t really give much to speculate upon as the story unfolds. Also, the last episode ties up all the loose ends in such an abrupt and matter of fact way, I feel cheated of the extra intrigue that could have been injected earlier on. A couple of the revelations, one in particular, just don’t sit right with me…and I’m usually open to anything.

If you think binge-watching a whole series might have lessened my enjoyment, it didn’t. I still enjoyed the story and was interested enough to click ‘Next episode’ between coffee, lunch and toilet breaks (separate activities, I might add). Also, had iPlayer presented this as weekly instalments, I may well have scrolled past new episodes each week in favour of something more addictive. This is why I try to allow myself at least two episodes of a new series…especially if a slow start leaves me feeling only slightly intrigued.

I’m hoping this first series is the basis for a second, which will see the characters fleshed out and living in the scenario we were teased with at the very end of the final episode. If that’s the case, I will look forward to seeing it.

There is a lot of mystery here…and Nathan really draws sympathy, but it’s so depressing throughout, there isn’t much to lift the characters out of their daily misery of gruesome deaths, family torment and general hopelessness (think Eastenders with recorder music).

Kevin O'Sullivan's picture

Submitted by Bobalice24 on Tue, 02/08/2016 - 22:29 By Bobalice24

Where to start? This initially promising spooky period drama turns out to be meandering, unfulfilling and ultimately bonkers. The initial premise of a renowned psychologist returning to his ancestral home in Somerset from London to experience strange goings on, together with hints of a disturbed family background immediately piqued my interest.

Six weeks on (I missed a couple of episodes in the middle - don't think it made much difference) am sorely disappointed with plot lines that might tie the myriad hauntings, possesions' and supernatural visions together.

Instead the final episode skips to the present day to a woman suffering post natal depression who is related to the main victorian character Nathan and his dead son (Keep up!).

There is a terribly tenuous link between this woman and the past but for some reason she is being haunted by Nathan's son.

The whole series became risible in this last episode when a yellow Golf driven by modern day lady to the old house in modern times, was pulled out of the ground by the olden days farmers in Victorian times and then explained as the reason why the land was boggy, or the crops failed, or some such!

Nothing was resolved and the door was left open for a next series with a did Nathan kill his wife or not cliffhanger with my disbelief seriously unsuspended I doubt I'll be hanging on