It’s a common myth that the people of Victorian Europe were more proud and prudent than they were lovers of the strange and morbid. Historical black comedy/mystery Dead Still, a limited British series, plays upon the latter by diving into the uniquely fascinating, though rarely regarded, world of post-mortem photography.
The show follows veteran memorial photographer Brock Blennerhasset (Michael Smiley), who is an expert in the field due to his uncommon ability to pose the dead like no one else can. He has a reputation of being astute – though dissociative – when dealing with bereaved clients. Enter his devilishly charming niece Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins), who comes to stay with her uncle in Dublin with the hopes of not only becoming an actress but finding big-city drama to liven up her days. The main trio is rounded out by gravedigger-turned-photographer’s apprentice Conall Molloy (Kerr Logan) who Blennerhasset begrudgingly takes under his wing.
Whilst the aforementioned group partake in the much-in demand memorial business, across the city bumbling but well-meaning Detective Regan (Aidan O’Hare) is investigating a number of unprecedented crimes: a shadowy figure is posing the corpses of his victims after brutally murdering them and dirty photographs of the killer’s work soon circulate the underbelly of 1880s Ireland. Regan smells a headline-making case, but his colleagues on the forces see nothing but suicides. No one will listen, so Regan turns to Blennerhasset and his inside knowledge on the trade in order to bring the culprit to justice. As the show progresses, Blennerhasset, Nancy and Molloy unwittingly stumble deeper into the bloody mystery that is plaguing the streets. When things get too personal too fast, they’re left entangled in a web of past secrets, present danger and future consequences.
Dead Still weaves the weird with the macabre; from the moment the first episode begins, we are introduced to the dynamic Victorian period, made quirky by the overt eccentricities conveyed by the actors, as well as the ghoulish humour of the script. Each scene is brought to life through the spacious though relatively sparse set design. The costumes, in particular the ladies’ fashions, are beautifully and simply done.
Initially, the unusual atmosphere of the show makes it a bit difficult to settle into. However, it is intriguing enough for one to continue watching, and viewers will gradually become enamoured. Though the mystery is not terribly complex —guessing the identity of the overarching villain is a short endeavour— the likeability of the whole production increases as we get to know the characters better. The central idea is wonderful, but perhaps the show would’ve benefited more if it had taken less of a comedic approach and more of a serious, grislier one, following in the footsteps of London’s infamous Jack the Ripper era. With that said, the hilarity and awkwardness that arises softens the perverse nature of the crimes. By the time you reaches the conclusion, you can’t help but feel like you’ve taken an unconventional, and pleasant journey through time, surrounded by your nutty relatives.
Now that the likes of Dead Still has been released into the world, one can see the need for entertainment that is both light and dark, and perfectly uncanny. While the show’s resolution is not quite satisfying in regard to the characters’ private turmoil, should a second season be made, it would certainly be welcomed.
Dead Still is streaming in the US exclusively on Acorn TV now
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95