the Living and the dead
Scary Poldark (only it’s not scary...)
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.