Dead Still review – a Victorian dark comedy with wit to spare one snap of the dead

May 18, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
TV Reviews
4

Summary

Strong characters, an unusual premise and a fine sense of wit make Dead Still enticing, transporting television of a kind we can always use more of.

4

Summary

Strong characters, an unusual premise and a fine sense of wit make Dead Still enticing, transporting television of a kind we can always use more of.

This review of Dead Still (Acorn TV) is spoiler-free.


Sometimes a premise leaps out at you, and such is the case with the setup for the new six-episode miniseries Dead Still (Acorn TV), a period murder-mystery about Brock Blennerhassett (Michael Smiley), a fussy post-mortem photographer in 1880s Ireland, who finds himself, his niece Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins), and his ex-gravedigger protégé Conall Molloy (Kerr Logan), drawn into a spate of macabre Dublin killings that resemble the peerless, “lively” work of Blennerhassett himself.

Very Irish, very funny and boasting this unique hook of a very Victorian tradition, Dead Still is unique enough to stand out in the dense ranks of genre TV – and sharp enough to draw blood. Its humour, rooted in period detail, class-consciousness, and juxtaposition, is an endless pleasure that smartly repositions a fascination with death and its rituals not as the underpinning of crime television – although of course, it is – but of Victorian Dublin, a place of countless contradictions and idiosyncrasies.

Dead Still (Acorn TV) review - a Victorian dark comedy with wit to spare

An integral one, for instance, is the idea of a photography subject being made to look alive in their death. With our smartphones harbouring thousands of images of all sorts of things, it’s easy to forget how much of an ordeal photography once was, and Dead Still has jokes to make at the expense of that need to preserve life in a memento. But it’s much more interested in how mortuary photography relates to death itself, to the process of grieving, and of not preserving the deceased but the act of dying – or perhaps killing.

As compelling of a hook as this obviously is, Dead Still doesn’t slouch in other areas, and it’s consistently impressive how it courts the period drama fans with handsome production but also those who might be averse to such things with a contemporary sensibility and humour. Staples of Victorian society and traditions feature in often outlandish forms, but the show’s good at honing in on what about those old ideas might still resonate today. A fine cast delivers excellent work here embodying interesting and rounded characters whose strength and smarts help to elevate the show further still; this is a great experience well-worth having.


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