Dead Still – Season One – An Acorn Original
Reviewed by Gretchen
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Dead Still is a darkly atmospheric murder mystery set in Victorian Ireland, surrounding the career of postmortem photographer Brock Blennerhasset. Brock is renowned in his field, tastefully and tactfully photographing the dearly departed, posing them artistically so they scarcely seem dead, as was frequently the custom in the Victorian era. Often, this might be the only photo of those not having the funds for a photo of themselves when they were alive, or in the case of the tragic, early deaths of young children. A child might be posed with a favorite teddy bear, a young man sitting next to his dead wife on a divan or even whole group photos of the living family with the recently deceased, sitting attired in their best clothes.
As the series progresses, it becomes apparent that there is someone else, at least nearly as talented as Brock, yet producing ghastly photos of those in the act of dying, often gruesomely tortured. An album of these photos appears to be circulating among the members of no less than the infamous Hellfire Club in Dublin. When it goes missing, the mysterious photographer will stop at nothing to get it back, including corrupting Brock’s reputation that he has earnestly worked for years to build.
Brock hires a young grave digger named Malloy who is eager to become his apprentice and prove himself to Brock. His eagerness to learn proves him a reliable asset, but it is his loyalty that will confirm his greatest asset to the aging photographer.
Living with Brock is his fiery, indomitable niece Nancy Vickers who refuses to return home to live with her cold, dominating mother. She also proves fiercely loyal and finds herself mixed up in more than one escapade, not least of which because of her tendency to impulsivity.
As the case proceeds, the situation attracts the attention of the Dublin Police, notably police detective Frederick Regan, who is eager for a big case to prove himself.
The camera angles and lighting lend a haunting quality to this show. It focuses at times (pardon the pun) on the Victorian preoccupation with death and the spirit world, all against a lavish backdrop of rustling black silk crepe, shiny, horse drawn hearses and glimmering oil lamps, casting ominous shadows against the wall. Gothic in feel and at times darkly comic and at others horrific, it is not recommended for children or anyone of a sensitive nature, due to the mature themes within.
There were times when I was concerned that the feel for the times was not entirely on point, and the creators could have done a bit more research on, for example, the manner of speaking, word usage (“Okay” was not in the common vocabulary of the time) and even customs and taboos of the day to make it as believable as possible but overall, the creators have captured entirely the Victorian nuance to the piece and the actors are all superb in their roles. I liked little details that were included without any explanation, but that would be noticeable for someone who was acquainted with the era, for example, the covering of mirrors in a house with black fabric during a time of mourning.
As of now there appears to only be only a first series, but the ending seemed to indicate a promise of a second one.