Dead Still: Acorn TV series is deliciously morbid and intriguing

Dead Still on Acorn TV_Michael Smiley as Brock Blennerhasset. Image Courtesy Bernard Walsh, Acorn TV
Dead Still on Acorn TV_Michael Smiley as Brock Blennerhasset. Image Courtesy Bernard Walsh, Acorn TV /

Acorn TV’s Dead Still is a series that takes us into the darkly intriguing world of post mortem photography.

Dead Still is set in Victorian-era Ireland, and introduces us first to Brock Blennerhassett, a photographer known for his artful photos of the dead. Oh, you say you aren’t familiar with this morbid chapter of history? In the Victorian era, epidemics such as diphtheria and cholera ran rampant, meaning that the death count was rather high.

It became the norm to have photos taken of loved ones after they had died, usually in creepily lifelike poses, surrounded by their family members. Often, there were no other photos of the recently deceased, so their death photo was their only photo. I could go on and on about this fascinating subject, but you can look up these odd photographs if you so desire. For now, let’s get back to our story.

As the series opens, Brock is photographing a deceased woman named Mary, whose family quickly strips off her wedding ring before she is photographed. It seems they don’t approve of Mary’s ex-con husband. Brock pockets the discarded ring (which will show up again later).

An unexpected injury results in Brock needing help when he realizes he has left the undeveloped photographic plate of Mary in her family’s home. When he returns to find it, Detective Frederick Regan (Aidan O’Hare) is there, investigating a break-in that the family believes was committed by Mary’s convict husband.

Dead Still
Dead Still, Season 1 — Courtesy of Acorn TV /

Regan is also investigating two deaths that appear to be suicide, but might just be murders instead. Both corpses were found with slit wrists, almost posed in a relaxed position, and Regan realizes that the victims mimic the subjects of mortuary photographs.

Knowing that a lost photo could be damaging to his reputation, Brock enlists the help of his visiting niece Nancy, and Conall, a grave digger who wants to change careers and is fascinated with photography. Shenanigans ensue, and I don’t want to say too much about what follows, since I would rather you experience the mystery and fun for yourselves. Let’s just say our three unlikely sleuths wind up digging up a corpse in the local graveyard, and leave it at that.

Dead Still is both funny and morbid, with a completely engaging storyline and a top-notch cast. Michael Smiley (Come to Daddy, The Nun) plays Brock as a somewhat stuffy man, whose tendency to be extremely particular makes him very good at his peculiar job. Still, he is likeable, and the final moments of the first episode provide some insight and make you feel empathy.

Nancy is portrayed by Eileen O’Higgins, who balances out Brock’s stuffiness with her feisty nature and dry sense of humor. She’s a breath of fresh air in a series about such dark subject matter, and her relationship with Kerr Logan’s Conall looks like it is going to be interesting. During their first encounter, she snottily dismisses him as common and dirty, but she ends up championing him when she thinks Brock is not going to use him as his assistant.

Dead Still
Dead Still, Season 1 — Courtesy of Acorn TV /

Conall is played as very serious and determined, especially for a young man, and the fundamental differences between the three characters make for an interesting and fun dynamic. Between their interplay and a dark murder mystery, I am very much looking forward to the remaining episodes of Dead Still.

If you think this series sounds too light-hearted for lovers of horror, I urge you to give it a try. The time period and atmosphere made me think of Penny Dreadful, without the monsters.

And, if you don’t think that the subject of post mortem photography is quite morbid enough, I will leave you with an interesting little nugget of information. Although the dead subjects were sometimes photographed with their eyes open, this was not always possible. Obviously, closed eyes do not look very lifelike, so photographers would often paint eyes on the eyelids in photographic images. Picture that when you are trying to go to sleep tonight.

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Acorn TV is a streaming service specializing in programming from the UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Spain and Mexico. Acorn TV is $5.99 per month, but they are currently offering a free one-week trial.

Are you a fan of Acorn TV? Does Dead Still intrigue you and make you want to try out the streaming service? Let us know in the comments section.