When I heard that the BBC was going to be airing a Victorian Supernatural drama I was thrilled. The Victorian era is one in which the ghost story has a firm footing. As you know Victorian era supernatural is a interest of mine. It was an era of great change and that is something that the living and the dead explores in the stories it tells.
Set in Somerset in 1894 it follows the lives of psychologist Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) and his photographer Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer). When the death of Nathan’s mother brings them back to his family home, Shepzoy farm, they’re soon faced with running a struggling farm while contending with an ever increasing supernatural presence which seems to be connected with Nathan’s own past.
I admit when it came to the twist at the end of the first episode , which I wont reveal for those who haven’t caught the show yet, I was slightly (only slightly) disappointed that this wasn’t going to be a straight up ghost story. However, as the series went on the twist that was introduced in the first episode was bubbling under the surface nicely and created an intriguing element. It also contributed to Nathan’s gradual slide to the brink of madness. The last episode did a nice job of bringing the strands of the narrative together.
Although I was uncertain at first about the twist element I found it opened up a lot of other intriguing questions. Part of the fun of the supernatural genre is, perhaps, the way it can pose more questions than it answers.This is an era when science and the traditional beliefs were caught in conflict. The Living and The Dead makes you wonder where the line between them falls. How much of what is happening is supernatural and how much is down to psychological factors, and then makes you wonder how much of the supernatural events actually have scientific explanations that we just can’t understand yet?
In fact the whole of The Living and The Dead is perched between two worlds and the conflicts of this changing world are exemplified in the characters. Making Nathan a physiologist was a clever idea. Who better to be conflicted by the overpowering evidence of the supernatural than someone who has spent their life telling people that such things are the figments of their own imaginations.
Charlotte Appleby is in some ways a woman ahead of her time. While they were living in London she had her own career as a photographer and she’s not prepared to be a meek, little woman when she arrives in Shepzoy. This is a woman who rides into rural, Victorian England and gets involved with all aspects of running the farm and making changes in the name of progress. Understandably this isn’t something that goes down too well with some.
Although not all the questions posed by the show were answered it doesn’t feel like an issue; an element of ambiguity is often a plus in this genre. Enough questions were answered for it not to feel unresolved. I’d say the balance was right here.
Of course, those who have seen the last episode will know there is another twist right at the end. If it is given a second series this will be an intriguing cliff hanger; if not, it will be a frustrating question mark left hanging in space. I have seen mixed reviews of this show but personally I enjoyed it and would recommend it. There are some great performances and there is a great atmospheric quality to the scenes.
In a new move for the BBC they made the entire show available for binge watching before it even hit TV screens. The show could also be watched in weekly instalments on TV for those who prefer to gather round the TV as a family in a weekly ritual (the method we opted for). Unusually too the show aired on a Tuesday, which was nice to see. It seems common these days for this type of drama to automatically head for the weekend slots so it was treat to have a quality weekday offering.