My Thoughts on the BBC’s New Supernatural Drama: The Living and the Dead
By Madeline Dyer
So, I love a good Victorian drama and I love anything that has a supernatural element. Throw in ghosts, and you've got me. Plus, Merlin's Colin Morgan? Well, I just had to watch the BBC's new six-part drama, The Living and the Dead, created by Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham.
This drama follows the main character, Nathan Appleby, a psychologist from the city who is overwhelmed with grief for his late son, as he moves back to the country to embrace his farming roots, with his second wife, Charlotte. And this series gets surprisingly dark. In fact, after seeing a couple of (rather graphic) murders within the first couple of episodes, I realised this wasn't going to be like any other historical drama I'd watched. But it definitely grabbed my attention, and made me tune back in for the next episodes, especially when I was at a 'take it or leave it' stage because, although the storyline was good, I wasn't sure about the execution or some of the acting.
Each episode has its own self-contained story: a character is possessed and, ultimately, it's down to Nathan Appleby to save him or her. Yet what impressed me was how different each episode was. There was very little repetition, and each episode also built up the over-arching story of Nathan and Charlotte’s relationship too, as well as exploring further the true extent of Nathan’s grief over his son’s death—as well as his guilt.
Nathan's wife, Charlotte, played by Charlotte Spencer, certainly added vitality and life to the drama. Charlotte was definitely one of my favourite characters. She had ambition and was a strong, female character. She put many a man into his place, standing up for herself and what she believed to be right--and she was on the firm non-believer side for all the paranormal goings-on. Yet, she was also the doting wife, which gave an interesting dynamic, given that her husband believed in ghosts. It was nice bit of conflict.
The other female character I loved was Gwen, the housekeeper and Charlotte's servant (played by Kerrie Hayes). She was fiery, loyal, and passionate. Plus, I appreciated her and Charlotte's relationship; at times they were more like equal friends, than mistress and servant, which was nice to watch.
The cast has quite a few famous actors, but I found Colin Morgan's acting a bit stilted at first. To me, he seemed to be trying too hard to be like Aidan Turner's Poldark, and I just didn’t believe in his character--something that surprised me, given how much I loved him in Merlin. But, in the penultimate episode as Nathan becomes rather manic, I realised that the controlled, awkward, and (at times) rather cold character Morgan had been portraying was because of the script. The final two episodes certainly showed that Morgan can still act. And it was the final episode that definitely made the series--and the BBC had better produce a second!
So, let's talk about the ending. The sixth episode introduced a whole new element that had only been briefly hinted at in prior episodes: suddenly, this isn’t just a drama set in nineteenth century Victorian England. Suddenly, we’ve got scenes that take place in the present day too. And the past and present clashes in a spectacular way; there were some real tearjerker moments and two twists that I did not see coming. Always a bonus!
But, this sudden introduction of the present day felt a bit heavy. Although it had been foreshadowed, we suddenly have several scenes set in the present day throughout episode six, whereas before there were none. This made Nathan Appleby's narrative seem more like a story we were being told, rather than a series of events we could experience. And it felt a bit annoying. I mean, we'd spent the five previous episodes in the Victorian period, believing those times to be the 'present day' of the drama. When, in fact, it wasn't.
Overall, this is a great new drama, full of twists, and quite a lot darker than expected. There are a few rather graphic scenes of violence, and a couple of mild sexual scenes.
My advice? Watch it, and don't give up after only a couple of episodes. The final two really do pull everything together and turn what appears to be a series of standalone episodes into one larger story, with a pretty big cliffhanger.
Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and holds a BA honours degree in English from the University of Exeter. She has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or Victorian, and can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes.
Madeline’s debut novel, Untamed (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a futuristic world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged. Her second novel, Fragmented, is set to hit shelves in September 2016, and is currently available to pre-order from Prizm Books and Torquere Press.