Dead Still, now available on DVD from Acorn Media, takes us deep into one of the oddities of Victorian England: photographing the dead. Not only would families have photographs of their recently departed taken as mementoes, but they would also pose with them for one last family portrait.
In Dead Still, Brock Blennerhasset (Michael Smiley) has made a successful career taking these rather macabre photographs. A solitary man, he works alone until an accident, someone drops one of his really heavy cases on his foot, forces him to not only allow his niece Nancy Vickers, (Eileen O’Higgins) to move in with him to care for him while he recovers, but to hire an assistant, Conall Molloy (Kerr Logan) to help with the work.
While the work should be fairly straightforward: prop the corpse up and make it look as lifelike as possible – the getting them to hold still part is easy – and then take the picture – other complications enter the picture. In one case the family doesn’t want their daughter’s husband involved – so he kidnaps Blennerhasset, Nancy and Molloy and forces them to not only dig up his late wife but to take his picture with her.
Of course people are discovering other uses for photography aside from portraiture which lead Blennerhasset and the others into an encounter with early pornographers as well as something far more sinister. For someone is not just posing the dead, he’s murdering people and then taking their pictures. When a book of these photographs falls into Molloy’s and Blennerhasset’s hands they are drawn into a sinister and deadly mystery.
Dead Still is a wonderfully written and acted series with each of the episodes not only being a self-contained unit, but also furthering the overall mystery of the murder photos and who is responsible for both them and the killings. At times funny, and a little macabre, the show manages to be both a wonderful character study and a great mystery. The fact it also delves into some of the more risqué and strange practices of the Victorian era makes it all the more fun.
If you like your mysteries a little off centre and a bit strange then Dead Still will suit you perfectly. This isn’t your standard period piece and its all the better for it. The perfect antidote for all those precious period pieces we seem to be swamped with these days.