‘The Living And The Dead’ Episode 1 review: Colin Morgan’s atmospheric new drama

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Set in 1894, Somerset, BBC One’s new supernatural period drama from Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars, Eternal Law) brings a bearded Colin Morgan back to our screens.

Establishing an atmospheric tone from the off, we meet Nathan Appleby (Morgan), an accomplished psychologist who is happily married to the bright and spirited Charlotte.

In the wake of his mother’s death, and inspired by both his wife’s enthusiasm and a sense of loyalty to the villagers who rely on it, Appleby forsakes his profession in order to take on the running of the family farm.

However, his former profession will not let him go and he becomes involved in the case of disturbed local girl Harriet Denning (Tallulah Haddon), daughter of the local vicar. Feeling compelled to help her; Appleby endeavours to free her of an affliction which he believes is psychological rather than supernatural.

The Living and the Dead 1 1  Harriet Denning (TALLULAH ROSE HADDON)

Led into some dark territory, the tale pulls at various strings of backstory – the most haunting of which is the loss of Appleby’s young son Gabriel, a child of his previous marriage, whose voice returns to haunt on discovered phonograph cylinders.

Colin Morgan is still perhaps best known for Merlin, but his time as the teenage warlock ended some four years ago and he has tackled a variety of roles since in shows as diverse as The Fall and Humans.

We enjoyed seeing him in this more mature leading role as a sceptic in the Freudian mould, playing closer to his own age. Somehow, the beard also grants added gravitas and doubtless the shirtless-by-gaslight scenes will earn him further admirers too!

The Living and the Dead 1 1 Nathan Appleby (COLIN MORGAN)

For her part, Charlotte Spencer (Glue) makes a terrific impression as Appleby’s optimistic wife; an independent woman and photographer by profession, she steps up to take on the running of the farm, trying to modernise it in order to survive.

There is an instantly believable chemistry between the pair, not least when she encourages him to pose for the 1890’s equivalent of a bedroom selfie.

We also imagine those photographic skills might well have a bearing in later episodes.

The Living and the Dead 1 1

Director Alice Troughton (Doctor Who, Merlin) swiftly establishes her world; an idyllic location which looks beautiful by day but can be unutterably creepy by night. So far untouched by technological advances, though there was talk of persuading a branch line in their direction, the only real sign of the modern world came with the introduction of a gorgeous traction engine to plough the fields.

As things got more frightening, we were drawn in beautifully through some well-judged scares and a brooding score; a lingering shot of ants on that blooded plough seemed to signal there is plenty more horror to come!

Released in its entirety on iPlayer already, Netflix-style, The Living and the Dead is available for you to gorge yourself immediately. For those who prefer individual servings, it will begin a weekly airing on BBC One later this month.


Available on BBC iPlayer now and airs at 9pm on Tuesday 28 June 2016 on BBC One.

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