‘The Living And The Dead’ review: Episode 2 is delightfully unsettling

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With the shadow of John’s death still looming over the farm, the second episode of BBC One’s new supernatural drama deals with the long forgotten sins of the Appleby family.

At the request of Nathan, railway surveyors are test blowing the land to see if it might sustain a branch line, vital to the farm’s future prospects,  little knowing that the land beneath contains a long-forgotten mine owned by the Appleby family.

Nathan takes an interest in one of his young farm hands, Charlie (Isaac Andrews), who begins to suffer from terrifying visions of a gang of bloodied boys. As he endeavours to help the lad, his efforts stir up further memories of his lost son Gabriel.

Meanwhile, searching for a replacement farm manager, modernising Charlotte comes up against the sexism of the age and finds herself frustrated as it seems that no one else seems to share her vision. Opting to take on the role herself, it is fair to say that her decision is not met with much enthusiasm, save from her husband.

As well as following the primary story, Nathan’s attempts to help young Charlie, it also surrounds the couple’s attempts to conceive a child which has come to the attention of maid Gwen. While we are not convinced her portion of herbs and slow-worm will help, Charlotte deems it worth a try.

The two central performances from Colin Morgan and Charlotte Spencer continue to be compelling as they weather the storms of both farm management and personal woes.

Spencer’s modernising Charlotte seems to have grand plans for strawberries under glass and butter distributed by train, but her bravado and modernising ideas are undercut by fears for her increasingly troubled husband; you can see her switch on the public confidence when needed but there is a worried fragility underneath.

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Colin Morgan’s Nathan continues to brood and becomes easily distracted from farm duties, dealing with the mysteries of the village and seeking to help. It is clear he is horrified by the actions of his forbears and this redoubles his efforts to save young Charlie, risking his own life in the process.

Confronted again by memories of his son, we wonder how long before that suppressed grief will consume him?

With visions of bloodied mines and chanting voices, Ashley Pharoah’s tale puzzled and chilled in equal measure as the story of the red boys unfolded. We are enjoying the background thread of Nathan’s ghosts too; while we instantly recognise what the “book of light” means, he is beginning to question what he believes.

Add to that the very modern interruption to his dog walking, and it seems the ghosts that plague Shepzoy are most unusual, hailing from both its past and its future.

The Living and the Dead continues to be tautly directed and delightfully unsettling.


Available on BBC iPlayer now and airs at 9pm on Tuesday 5 July 2016 on BBC One.

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