The Living and the Dead

For this Victorian ghost story, writer Ashley Pharaoh has eschewed the usual trappings of hansom cabs and London smog and instead tapped into the fine English tradition of folk horror – a witchy mix of Thomas Hardy and MR James that can trace its lineage through such pastoral terrors as Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man.

Colin Morgan plays Nathan Appleby, a pioneering psychologist who has returned from London to run the family farm in Somerset with his new wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer). While she attempts to drag the reluctant farmworkers into the Industrial Revolution, Nathan is distracted by a (strictly professional) interest in the vicar’s teenage daughter, who has taken to feeding baby ducklings to the pigs and trying to drown the domestic staff under the water pump. She claims to be possessed by the spirit of a local killer – a ‘godless creature’ called Abel North – but Nathan is convinced there must be a more rational explanation for her behaviour. Puberty, perhaps?

Despite a liberal sprinkling of horror cliches – guttering candles, creaking floorboards, a face in the mirror – the slow-burning first episode aimed less to terrify than quietly unsettle, helped by a haunting score of eerie folk madrigals. Though the moment Nathan heard the voice of his dead son asking ‘Daddy, where are you?’ on a phonograph cylinder was **properly** creepy (despite its very obvious debt to Doctor Who’s gas-masked child asking ‘Are you my Mummy?’).

The episode also threw us a couple of genuine curveballs. Was that really an aeroplane vapour trail streaking across the Somerset sky, some 35 years before the invention of the jet engine? And who was the mysterious figure glimpsed in the farmhouse at the end, carrying an iPad – a glimpse beyond the veil into a future where Nathan and Charlotte are themselves ghosts from the past? Or just a runner who failed to get out of shot in time?

Given Pharoah’s form as co-creator of the time-twisting Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, I wouldn’t rule anything out – so don’t be surprised if a Ford Capri comes crashing through the scullery next week, in what is shaping up to be classy hokum of the highest order.

TV extra:

 

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities

For those of you who never rented National Lampoon’s Animal House, a fraternity is an American college society – a cross between the freemasons and an unrelenting stag weekend, where people pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of shotgunning beers with a bunch of over-entitled jocks. But, as this eye-opening documentary revealed, there is a darker side to frat culture, ranging from allegations of sexual assault to deaths by ‘hazing’ during secretive, violent initiation ceremonies. And they all go on to run the country, naturally.

 

Britain’s Favourite Dogs

I’m not really a dog person – I gag pulling hair out of the bathplug, so following the business end of a Schnauzer around with a blue plastic bag is a non-starter – but this top 10 countdown of the nation’s most popular breeds was full of heartwarming stories of man’s best friend. The faithful old Labrador came out top dog, but along the way we learned that our pooches are getting smaller, Staffordshire bull terriers are ‘little angels’ (apparently) and that any dog in any kind of clothing or accessories is just plain wrong.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 30, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend