Last week I began watching a fairly under the radar spooky new BBC show The Living and The Dead – and by watching I mean hiding behind my summer blanket in a cold sweat. I happened upon a double page in a weekend magazine at my in-laws on Sunday in which an eccentric looking Victorian cast gazed out from the midst of a cornfield with ominous skies behind them – the words ‘supernatural’ ‘victorian’ ‘spooky’ jumped out of the text – totally sold.
The corner of your eye is scarier than what you see,”
The Living and the Dead produced by the people behind War and Peace, Poldark and Death Comes to Pemberley is set in Somerset of 1894 and stars Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Charlotte Spencer. A pioneering Victorian scientist and his vivacious wife inherit his family’s farm and estate and soon experience one disturbing case after another. It doesn’t help that the farm is haunted by the ghost of his first wife and his dead son.
It goes without saying that the interiors are stunning. The first episode opens with a family in a lush Victorian conservatory all ornate lead window panes, hot-house flowers and terrariums – a lace collared teenage daughter sits in in a cane chair absently working on a cross stitch pattern which reveals itself to be an eerie religious text about the after-life – she consequently turns out to be possessed by voices that will chill you to the bone.
I am a massive scaredy cat and in my 30 odd years have not decided whether or not I enjoy the thrill of being scared, I am equally scared in the daylight as I am in the dark – because even in daylight of course, things are still hiding in the shadows. The stories take place against a pretty, pastoral backdrop and some of the most terrifying scenes take place in broad daylight. Screenwriter Ashley Pharoah wisely says “The corner of your eye is scarier than what you see,”
The show has been described as Thomas Hardy with ghosts and the deliciously descriptive introduction to the show sounds like the beginning of a ghost story I want to read.
“Point a camera at a field of wheat on an English summer’s day. What do you see? A blue sky over yellow crop. A soft breeze moving the wheat like an inland sea. The murmur of a bee. It’s pretty. It’s comforting, nostalgic. But let’s leave the camera running. Keep our attention fixed on that same landscape. Perhaps a cloud slides across the sun, slowly darkening the yellow. Or a stronger gust of wind makes the branches in the trees grind. A crow caws. Now the English landscape can feel unsettling, a place drenched in a history that includes war and death and unhappiness. Eerie, that’s the word. And that was the starting place for The Living And The Dead, to see the skull beneath the skin of English pastoral.”
Best of all every episode of The Living and The Dead is available in ‘Box Set’ form for instant viewing on iPlayer in a new Netflix style offer.
Check out this trailer if you are brave enough. PS Full disclosure, I’ve tried but not managed to get past Episode 1 (i’m too scared). EDIT. Since writing this I have watched the entire series and although it is very frightening the scares get easier to bear. The twists in the tale however are more brilliant than any show I have watched in a long time. Clue: There is an iPad in the first episode. Enjoy!
Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org