I really wish I liked BBC One’s new period ghost story The Living and the Dead more than I do. It looks absolutely stunning – the locations, cinematography and direction (by Alice Troughton and Sam Donovan) are all absolutely gorgeous, and there’s also a terrifically ethereal soundtrack from The Insects – and it also has some truly top notch performances notably from former Merlin and Humans star Colin Morgan who is maturing into a genuinely impressive leading man, matched every step of the way by a strikingly original contribution from Charlotte Spencer.
Morgan and Spencer play husband and wife Nathan and Charlotte Appleby who are both successful city professionals – he a pioneering psychologist, she a ground breaking photographer. Very much a modern couple in every sense of the phrase despite the 19th century setting, the pair give up their respective nascent careers to take over Nathan’s family farm after his mothers death. Charlotte especially is intent on introducing modern working practices and technologies to make the farm financially viable, but faces resistance both from the local workers and from more supernatural forces that rise up against the tide of time.
It’s a curious show, the ghostly elements having to share centre stage with a lot of scenes that belong in a more straightforward Thomas Hardy or Poldark adaptation. The supernatural elements are long on atmosphere but short on plot – it’s easy to see where this week’s story of demonic possession or spectral hauntings is going to go, so much so that I frequently wished they’d just cut out the 40 minutes of meandering and get to the point.
The one truly original aspect of the series created by Ashley Pharoah is the idea that not all ghosts are from the past: early on, Nathan sees vapour trails that could only be from a modern day jet, and later he comes face to face with a woman walking through his home dressed in very 21st century clothing and carrying an illuminated iPad. Unfortunately instead of making more of this theme, for most of the series these remain nothing more than brief one-off scenes suggesting an overarching storyline to what otherwise mainly feels like an old fashioned and overly familiar anthology of ghost stories
As I said at the start, overall I wished I liked this more than I did. For all the high quality parts, it deserves a more passionate endorsement than I’m able to give it. But I’d be lying if I denied that for me at least this largely washed around and over me, and left little lasting impression when it could and should have been much more thrilling and gripping than a pleasant albeit unremarkable walk through the woods.
Rating: ★ ★ ★
The Living and the Dead continues on BBC One on Tuesdays at 9pm and is available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer. It is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on August 8 2016.