Broadcast 2013 on BBC 3, a 3 part mini-series
Contains mild spoilers.
Now I watched this while on hiatus almost only because I thought I ought to but I came away with the feeling I'd watched a genuinely original and brave zombie tale that was not only dark, but thoughtful and relevant in this time of recession.
It's about prejudice and difference. A metaphor of our time; of forgiveness and charity or the lack of and the ability of family and community to repair itself, reintegrate and look forward. All with zombies; fantastic.
It's about the outsider, being different and that Writer Dominic Mitchell and Director Jonny Campbell chose zombies, or more accurately recovering zombies, as this outsider is brave, and perhaps an indictment of their current popularity, as they could have chosen another ostracised subject group. Who ever at the BBC green lit this deserves a commendation. Using zombies makes the drama fresh, original and stand-out, and what's even better, is by acknowledging the heritage of the genre and respecting, not poking fun at the tradition they crafted a sophisticated gritty work that avoids ever being turned into a farce.
Kieren 'Ren' Walker (Luke Newberry) has returned to his family home in the small town of Roarton in Lancashire, England; for my foreign readers think 'grim up north'. Both a victim of the rising and survivor, in still being attached to his head when the cure was discovered. He is has spent his time in the rehabilitation centre and now as an official sufferer of 'partially deceased syndrome' (PDS) he has to reintegrate with a family that are broken and confused, a community in recovery and actively prejudiced against him, and his conscience as he struggles to deal with fragmented memories of his time spent killing.
His town has recovered, or more accurately, adapted and just got on with it, and while there is less support for the HVF (Human Volunteer Force), the local militia who looked after the town when the threat was at large but now find themselves increasingly redundant and people just want to get back to normal there is also a heavy reluctance to accept those friends and family who were lost and dead back into the fold. It's a complex, delicate and uncompromising set up with characters and secrets that all interweave, where inertia and ignorance has let the voices of a vocal few spread fear and prejudice.
Smuggled into his family home in secret, his mother and father while overjoyed to have their son back are in denial as to his new state and go about as if nothing has changed. His feisty angst ridden teenage sister, Jem (Harriet Cains) an active member of the HVF is torn between what the HDF leader Bill Macey (Steve Evets) keeps telling her, that they could turn back at any moment and they're not really cured, and what she can see with own eyes in her own family home. The characters all have depth and you really feel for all of them.
Not content with just this conflict we discover that Kieren actually shot himself after a lovers quarrel with the son of the town agitator Bill, who returns from Afghanistan in episode 2. Also that Amy Dyer (Emily Bevan) another PDS sufferer and hunting partner of Kieren while zombies is in town and far more at ease with her condition sharing tales of an underground movement under the banner of the 'undead prophet' who believes they should reject the cure. The tapestry being weaved is rich and ambitious, maybe a little too much, as the many contradicting and complimenting relationships clash. Yet it just manages to hold it all together and builds up nicely over the three parts to an explosive finale that always felt inevitable.
The rotters as they are called are well fleshed out, taking the Romero blueprint and freshening it up little for 2013. They're dead, reanimated and feral roaming the countryside looking for human flesh; it's your usual stuff. And cured? They're still same; they're still very much dead, they can't eat, can't drink, don't age, but they have their control, conscience and minds back. The government provides make-up and contact lenses to help the communities adjust to their return and the cure which requires constant regular mandatory administering else they return to their former state. It's a fascinating idea and raises a lot of moral, religious and ethical questions. A six part second series has been commissioned for 2014 and I'd imagine many of these are to be addressed with the 'undead prophet' playing a larger role.
In The Flesh is a fantastic intelligent well-rounded personal drama. Unabashed in its subject matter and thematically rich it's not scared to get its hands dirty and tackle very contentious issues straight on. It's as gritty, real and unpretentious as it gets with top performances and complex characters that do the subject matter proud. Add it all together and you get a zombie drama you can't afford to miss, 9/10.