But aside from certain modern nuances like the scenic visuals and mature content (incest being a major player), writer-director Alan Cubitt (The Fall) creates a period drama that’s as stale as horse hay.
Based on the novel by Eugene McCabe, the story follows Beth Winters (Ann Skelly) in 19th century Ireland (present day Northern Ireland) as she tries to escape her current living situation. She packs a suitcase in secret, planning to leave her pervy and restrictive stepfather Billy (Matthew Rhys) to run away with Liam Ward (Jamie Dornan), who she met 12 months prior. But Liam might be carrying some secrets of his own.
Ann Skelly as Beth Winters, riding a horse-drawn carriage with Liam Ward
The episode is initially intriguing, opening like a blue tinted silent film that transitions into dawn as Beth tends to a fallen cow. She dreams in the night of poisoning Billy, making him beg for his life – setting up a psychological darkness inside her character. She exudes the persona of a restricted rebel, knowing how far she can go without being harmed. But the darkness is rarely returned to, and this episode could’ve done with more.
There’s an immediate heat tying together the performances of Skelly and Dornan, but the script isn’t seductive – it barely has room to breathe. And when it does, the mundanity is an effort to wade through.
ITV managed to revitalise the period drama with their recent adaptation of Vanity Fair, giving it a thrilling and sexy style – the BBC opts for a more conservative tone, to exhausting results. It’s hard to know how Cubitt will stretch out Death and Nightingales for a further two hours, but we're too tired to find out.
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On 28 Nov 18, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM