Wednesday, 22 June 2016
The Living and the Dead *spolers*
BBC1 has made this six-part series available for free as a box set on iPlayer and we couldn't resist. Ghosts! Period costumes! Manly chests! What more could we (well, Ali) want? Well, something a bit scarier maybe. Ashley Pharoah was the main brain behind 'Life on Mars', and there turned what should have been a very creepy concept into a lot of fun. It worked - at least in the first series - because of nostalgia for other cop shows as much as anything else.
This plays on traditional tropes from Thomas Hardy novels to MR James stories, but Pharoah clearly has a love of time travel narratives, and that doesn't fit quite so well here. Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) returns to his family farmhouse at Shepzoy in Somerset with young wife Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) in 1894, and before you can say 'here be dragons, get thee back to London', very odd things start happening.
It's all cleverly done, weaving a contained tale per episode into the ongoing narrative involving Nathan's dead son Gabriel (they're always called Gabriel), but we can't help feeling that some of it is a tad clumsy. Why is there no mention of Gabriel's mother? Ah of-course, that's for series two. Throughout, various influences made themselves felt, notably The Others and the history of Hinton Ampner, and there was a conundrum at the end, in that we'd had have advanced combustion engines a whole lot sooner if farmers in 1894 really had discovered a submerged car in a field. We always have high hopes of a new ghost story, but this delivered few real scares, and resorted to cliches at times.
It also resorted, rather unforgiveably, to an anachronistic look for heroine Charlotte, who wouldn't draw many odd stares in 21st Century Notting Hill. Her attitude and that of her maid are also very liberated for the time. A shame when trouble has clearly been taken to create an atmosphere of a place where rural folklore was still strong, in music, look and tone. Presumably these aspects were thought to be more accessible to a modern audience. Should we even try to cherry-pick the past and must we make everything modern? It seems a manifestation of our disturbing current tendency to distrust anything 'other', but 'other' is what is so fascinating and compelling about the past - and ghost stories - after all.