THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.4 (TV Review)

BBC One – 19th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Robert Murphy

Series created by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Sam Donovan


 

SECRET FLOWER OF THE FOREST

“The past is dead, and the dead are dead.”

Never a less convincing word is spoken by Victorian psychologist and spiritual-dabbler Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan), who is attempting to reassure his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) after witnessing the roaming spirit of a murdered villager at the close of this fourth episode in BBC One’s progressive supernatural period drama.

Despite being written and directed by different crew, tonight’s latest instalment is better than any previous episode at effortlessly continuing the series narrative without making the connection to previous parts feel laboured and forcefully inserted for continuity purposes. This felt like the conclusion of a two-parter.

Having been banished for his violent attempt to cleanse Shepzoy of its “witch” last week week, former farmhand Jack Langtree (Joel Gilman) is this week accused of attacking traumatised school teacher Martha Enderley (Nina Forever‘s Fiona O’Shaughnessy) while living rough in Elmwood Forest. But can Martha’s wide-eyed ramblings be believed, or is she more connected to the disappearance of her friend Alice Wharton (Gina Bramhill) than she is letting on?

“Your mind is denying us access to your memories…”

Donning a Rick Grimes-esque Stetson and attempting to put his personal malaise to one side, all-round go-to-guy Nathan adds lawman, detective and autopsy-deliverer to his growing repertoire of skills, returning to the mist-shrouded scene of the crime in an attempt to save Alice and apprehend Jack.

Behind the lens, Sam Donovan incorporates a wealth of dizzying aerial tracking shots of the gorgeous natural woodland, paralleling the scale and warmth of red autumnal foliage with the stark and claustrophobic greys of the cold Shepzoy dwellings. Pronounced angles and focus pulls also help immerse the viewer and increase the ominous and ethereal atmosphere which has been so strong throughout The Living and the Dead.

Once more Nathan’s haunting bereavement is kept to the outskirts – teased deliciously in a Ouija board prologue but then essentially back-benched once again. I sense this frustrating drawn out approach will be a common occurrence until his dead son is brought front and centre in an episode all his own at the tail-end of the six-part series.

Modernity again rears its head into the traditional Somerset community, with Llama’s proclaimed as the “future of farming” and an eventual innate confession capping-off what would have been a rather predictable and average murder mystery with a passionate explosion of pent-up alienation which the twenty-first century can relate to with more open-minded understanding than ever before.

“All my life I’ve felt different…”

Had the episode finished there, it would have been a passably adept hour of eerie entertainment, three CR@B’s out of five. However, the final shot pans to a truly jaw-dropping rug-pull reveal which corroborated an earlier question lingering in the back of my mind concerning a potential anachronism. Frankly, it blew my mind. Suspicions and curiosity well and truly running rampant, I am thankful for the innovative Beeb’s iPlayer boxset approach which means I don’t have to wait seven excruciating days to have my theories laid to rest. “That way madness lies…”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

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THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.3 (TV Review)

BBC 1 – 12th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Simon Tyrrell

Series created by: Ashley Pharaoh

Directed by: Alice Troughton


 

DUCKING THE HARE

“You will reap what has been sown.”

Harvest time is upon Shepzoy and tension is in the fields, perfectly encapsulated in the sombre folk song which riffs and repeats during key scenes in this eerie third episode of the BBC’s Tuesday night period drama. New Farm Manager Charlotte Appleby (Charlotte Spencer) is apprehensive about her first reaping being a success, while her psychologist husband Nathan (Colin Morgan) is suffering from insomnia following the death of tragic Charlie last week.

There is once more an episodic feel to proceedings with Charlie’s grieving mother (Pooky Quesnel) departing her home to make way for a new supernatural case file. This arrives in the twitchy form of nervous and highly-strung Peter Hare (Peter Emms), who is disturbed by voices and visions of a woman persuading him to sacrifice his mother, Maud (Elizabeth Berrington), to guarantee the wheat will not perish.

References to the reverend’s daughter and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from the deceased John (Steve Oram) from the opening episode do begin to paint proceedings into a larger panoramic portrait, so too a climatic tease to the return of Nathan’s haunted past next week, but this also works successfully as a gripping one hour supernatural adventure.

“We must evolve and embrace the new.”

Incoming episode scribe Simon Tyrrell successfully incorporates creator Ashley Pharaoh’s ever-present theme of tradition vs. progress, with the old-school farmworkers fearful of a cursed crop and looking for a witchly scapegoat to string up when an infestation of “black devils” swarms the sheaths. Can the new mistress “break the spell” with some scientific pest control, or will nature further dampen their spirits?

With more hallucinations and yet another night time wander, The Living and the Dead does veer perilously close to overusing its stock terror tropes, but the expanding story, weekly mysteries, eerie air and character’s convictions more than make up for the shadow of familiarity. Episode 1.3 is a strong and spooky, measured and moody addition to a prime portfolio.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.1 (TV Review)

BBC 1 – 28th June 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Alice Troughton


 

SHAKEN TO THE CAW

The Beeb boldly takes a leaf out of Netflix’s binge-watching (e-)book with the box set debut of its latest six part drama series on iPlayer, ahead of episode one’s terrestrial premiere on the flagship terrestrial channel tonight.

With a foot still firmly rooted in the fantasy field, Colin “Merlin” Morgan (most recently seen briefly in The Huntsman sequel) leads the cast as forward thinking psychologist Nathan Appleby in this Somerset-set Victorian period drama which explores the tension between life’s extremes: the past and the future, tradition and revolution, rural and urban, adolescence and adulthood, the occult and science, ignorance and knowledge, and – as the title makes abundantly clear – the living and the dead.

“An exciting but very, very awkward phase…”

In this opening chapter, London-living Nathan and his caring second wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer), inherit Nathan’s family farm, Shepzoy House, and move back to the country after his mother’s passing during the Summer solstice celebrations. How will the rigid and resistant household – led by farmhand John (Steve Aaaaaaaah! Oram) – react to this new beginning, with the young generation of Appleby’s determined to modernise the operation and turn the farm’s fortunes around?

The series’ strong theme is so deeply ingrained as to be almost overwhelming, especially when Nathan’s pioneering expertise is called upon to deal with the vicar’s child, Harriet Denning (Tallulah Haddon), who is morphing from a “dream daughter” into a remote and troubled young woman with a disturbing tendency to talk in a gruff manly voice. Is her mind being warped by the “dangerous” books she is reading; is she frightened by her own sexuality into creating a splintered alter ego; or is she possessed by the spirit of dead down and out, Abel North (David Sterne)?

“Fresh fruit waiting to be plucked…”

With the locale and musical score provided a folksy, Wicker Man-esque atmosphere (further aided by flickering candle-light and shadows highlighting a sense of otherness), The Living and the Dead is more successful in conjuring a slow, macabre air of tension and dread than it is at shocking set-pieces. Tallulah Haddon’s competence at creepy impressions is chillingly unnerving – particularly when she starts needling at Nathan’s tragic past – while John’s ominous fate is filmed in too delicate a manner to leave an impact.

I was fully expecting this scene-setting first hour to do little more than establish the characters and arching themes, so was mighty surprised when Nathan resolves Harriet’s case. Clearly future instalments will see the psychologist tackle other instances of supernatural manifestation, while his haunting past continues to plague his present state of mind. If episode two can continue just as expertly in its tension-ramping storytelling, then The Living and the Dead will continue to mesmerise – but it could perhaps do with taking its foot off the thematic throttle a bit; subtly over transparency will see this spooky series soar.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars