the Liv­ing and the dead

Scary Poldark (only it’s not scary...)

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Viewscreen -

UK Broad­cast BBC One, fin­ished Episodes Re­viewed 1.01-1.06

You could spend an en­tire episode of The Liv­ing And The Dead play­ing “I Spy”. There’s a tiny bit of The Wicker Man here. A smidge of Don’t Look Now there. A ghostly homage to Sap­phire & Steel here; the creaky cor­ri­dors of The Woman In Black there; a hint of Witchfinder Gen­eral crossed with a glim­mer of Life On Mars...

The lat­ter, of course, makes sense when you note that Mars/ Ashes To Ashes writer Ash­ley Pharoah came up with this spooky su­per­nat­u­ral drama, and the lit­tle mo­ments that do re­call those shows work fan­tas­ti­cally well: par­tic­u­larly in the first episode’s end­ing, which sees 19th-cen­tury farmer Nathan Ap­pleby (Colin Mor­gan) stum­bling across the ghost of a young woman in his hall­way who’s hold­ing a glow­ing iPad. Jaw? Meet floor.

The show’s big­gest in­flu­ence, how­ever, is un­doubt­edly Poldark. While that soar­ing BBC success cen­tred largely on Ai­dan Turner’s hair blow­ing in the breeze on a Cor­nish clifftop, here we have Colin Mor­gan’s im­pres­sive bar­net-and-beard combo ruf­fling in the breeze in a Som­er­set wheat field. There are blue sum­mer skies, cheer­ful peas­ants till­ing the land and even shots of Mor­gan with his top off. Un­like Poldark, how­ever, The Liv­ing And The Dead throws in pos­ses­sions, ghosts, freak­ish mur­ders, witch-dunk­ing and even time travel. It’s a brave move from Aun­tie Beeb, who last dab­bled with prime-time magic with Jonathan Strange & Mr Nor­rell and got burnt by the rat­ings, but every­body likes a good hor­ror se­ries, right?

The prob­lem is that it’s ac­tu­ally not that scary. There’s only so many times some­one can wan­der into a dark room with a lamp look­ing for a noise, and what scares there are dis­ap­pear from the screen so quickly, it’s as though the editor got im­pa­tient for their tea break. Af­ter a promis­ing start, by the time you get to the dread­fully, in­sult­ingly clichéd “killer les­bian” tale in episode four, you’re los­ing the plot.

Still, an in­trigu­ing fi­nal episode re­gains a lot of lost ground, and no­body can deny that Nathan Ap­pleby could give Poldark a run for his money in the “at­trac­tive brood­ing” stakes. Just don’t ex­pect to be fright­ened. Jayne Nel­son

That hat’s worth los­ing an “N” for.

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