‘The Living And The Dead’ review: Episode 5 is utterly gripping

In the penultimate episode of the BBC’s spooky period drama, the village was besieged by the ghosts of a bloody Civil War atrocity.

Yes, wouldn’t you know it, on top of all the other dark incidents in its past, it seems Shepzoy was the site of a bloody massacre too; Roundhead troops stormed the village one All Hallows Eve, hanging and disembowelling its residents.

This gruesome piece of local history came to the fore when one of the railway engineers, enjoying a little nocturnal activity, saw a vision of a hanged woman in the woods. He was distressed by the encounter that all the workers downed tools and left town, putting the prospect of that vital railway connection in doubt.

While Nathan readily believed what the railwayman saw, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) remained sceptical and the two argued, with Nathan accusing her of being ‘wilfully blind’ to the facts. She did however convince him to spend some time away from the village, but events overtook any such plans.

The Living and the Dead Charlotte Appleby (CHARLOTTE SPENCER)

Despite all this, there was still time to gather the villagers, posed in grotesque costumes, for a Halloween snapshot. It was the development of that photo which was set to cause turmoil thanks to the presence of a young boy, toy boat in hand, who might just be a dead ringer for Nathan’s late son Gabriel.

Meanwhile, the increasingly disturbed Nathan has become convinced that Lara (Chloe Pirrie), the modern dressed woman who appears brandishing her ‘book of light’, is the common link to all their problems. He even goes so far as to hypnotise vicar’s daughter Harriet Denning, the gloriously creepy (Tallulah Haddon), in an attempt to contact her, and receives a chilling message: “They’re coming for you. Nathan, they’re coming for you.”

As fear grips the town, the spiritual incidents increase; from evocative battle noises and screams of terror, to ghostly troops on horseback, Shepzoy becomes a town under siege and Nathan reaches out for an exorcism from Reverend Dennings – who does not need much persuasion after his daughter is attacked. That particular scene in the church, with an invisible noose around Harriet’s neck pulling her up into mid-air, was incredibly well realised and utterly gripping.

The Living and the Dead

As Morgan and Spencer have such sparkling chemistry together, it was dynamite to see their characters so at odds. In amongst all the spectral goings on, the relationship between husband and wife has endured and this episode really piled on the pressure, leading to a violent but believable disagreement.

With Nathan changing his mind about the exorcism, now believing that Gabriel’s spirit remains in the house too, The Living and the Dead has plenty to do in its final episode – namely providing the answer to Lara’s identity and revealing why dark forces seem to converge on this seemingly remarkable village… and let’s hope that Nathan and Charlotte remain firmly in the living, rather than the dead part of the title.

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Available on BBC iPlayer now and airs at 9pm on Tuesday 26 July 2016 on BBC One.

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  • Judith Hamilton

    Looking forward to the last episode and hope the mysteries will be cleared up but of course if there is to be another series it may not be…

  • Rosemary

    I thought it was wonderful, but one thing in particular puzzled me. Towards the end, as he became more erratic in his conduct, Nathan’s dress seemed to be becoming markedly more modern. Perhaps I’m being fanciful, but I wonder whether that might somehow be symbolic of his late-nineteenth century world and Lara’s twenty-first blurring together?

    • Anne Marie Murphy

      I thought this too! The scene where he was chasing Lara looking at the carvings on the tree was almost 21st clothing I thought, and his jumper at the end too

      • Rosemary

        Ah, great minds think alike! 🙂 Hope we find out next week whether we’re on the right track!