What would happen to Britain after a zombie uprising? Derek from Croydon won’t be manning a gattling gun attached to the roof of his customised Ford Focus, plucky comedy sidekick behind the wheel looking nervous and quipping.
Acronyms – that’s what would happen, and NHS awareness posters. Lives would need to be rebuilt and communities healed. And so it is with BBC Three’s In The Flesh, a new zombie drama series from writer Dominic Mitchell and directed by Johnny Campbell.
In this world, the dead have risen and a great battle between them and the living has ended with the ‘rotters’ holed up in institutions, administered with drugs and treated with psychotherapy. If this sounds like unlike anything you’ve ever seen, that’s because it is. Warm Bodies may have brought a little colour to zombie cheeks, but In The Flesh gives them soul.
In this first episode we meet Kieran Walker (Luke Newberry), a Partially Deceased Sufferer (PDS – we told you there would be acronyms) recovering from his part in the rising. He cuts a sad figure in his patient scrubs; wracked with guilt for the lives he took in his untreated state and desperately afraid to face his family and small rural community. The medication which keeps him from regressing back to his rabid state is reawakening memories, but with a traumatic side effect. It triggers flashbacks of his last kill.
As for the humans, they’ve survived by doing what they usually do – banding behind a leader with the will to act and some walkie talkies. The Human Volunteer Force (HVF) under the leadership of Bill Macy (Steve Evets) and propped up by the Revelations-spouting Vicar Oddie (Kenneth Cranham) hold court in Roarton, Kieran’s home. However, times are changing and the government, conspicuous by their absence during the rising, has decreed that the undead must be rehabilitated into society, much to the chagrin of this radicalised community.
The heart of the drama is Kieran and his family – a microcosm for what is likely happening up and down this alt universe Britain bubbling with social tension and paranoia. His parents make small talk over the dinner Kieran can’t eat anymore, rightly worried that a knock on the door could mean the HVF have found him. Tears are shed, but there’s a soothing humour to the brilliantly written script and Campbell’s direction fits the tone perfectly with its calm, lingering shots of Kieran perched on his hospital bed or glimpses of fearful, curtain-twitching locals.
Luke Newberry is superb as Kieran, with melancholy etched on his scarred and pale face. So much rests on his character’s young shoulders, and Newberry’s performance is nuanced and compelling, without a hint of teenage self indulgence. His pain and guilt is believable and sympathetic.
In The Flesh explores fear, guilt, intolerance and redemption, taking the figure of the zombie out of the shadow of the shotgun and into a brave new world of poignant domestic drama. It’s a moving, thoughtful and altogether refreshing look at an old foe that will leave you wanting more, and makes you wonder how this hasn’t been attempted before.
In The Flesh starts 17 March 2013 at 10pm on BBC Three.