Something very strange has been happening on Saturday nights on ITV lately. Typically the domain of pointless talent pantomimes, noisy Ant??ec variety spectaculars and camcorder calamity shows, a living, breathing drama series found itself occupying the 9pm slot. It was also that latter-day rarity, a quality British fantasy drama – and to almost everyone? surprise, AFTERLIFE found itself with a regular 6 million viewers, considerably more than higher-profile detective dramas like JERICHO and VINCENT. D?ou think the message is getting through..?

Created and written by Stephen Volk (I?l just say Mr Pipes and leave it to you to make the connection), AFTERLIFE is a chilling, haunting psychological horror series whose stories are terrifyingly realistic and surprisingly memorable, their atmosphere and imagery staying with you long after you?e turned off the TV. The brilliant and intense Lesley Sharp plays Alison Mundy, a tormented psychic/medium who moves to Bristol to start a new life after a traumatic past. She comes to the attention of Dr Robert Bridge (THIS LIFE and TEACHERS?Andrew Lincoln), a psychology lecturer at Bristol University who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his son Josh in a road traffic accident, an accident Robert blames himself for. Robert realises Alison would make an ideal case study and sets about following her activities as he researches a book about this remarkably gifted/terribly cursed woman. Over the course of six episodes the two become involved in disquieting mysteries involving ghosts and spirits and alternative personalities.

Make no mistake about it, Robert and Alison are no wise-cracking, torch-wielding Mulder and Scully. Their relationship is purely professional; they barely seem able to tolerate one another. Robert, the sceptic, is intrigued by Alison, she is fascinated by Robert because she herself is haunted by the image of his dead son, trapped in some sort of Limbo and unable to move on. She thinks Robert is a tosser, he thinks Alison is mad. It? not exactly a match made in telefantasy Heaven but it makes for six cracking, riveting, intelligent hours of television. Sharp and Lincoln are two of the country? finest, most honest actors (no soap opera roles on their CVs) and the chemistry between them practically explodes from the screen. Volk? scripts are taut and suspenseful, the plots genuinely intriguing and, for the faint-hearted (not me, oh no) really quite unnerving. These are stories of the dead reaching out to the living, of disturbed personalities, of things that go ?ump?in the night. There are no lavish displays of CGI here, no roaring salivating ghosts or monsters. The horror is largely psychological, ghostly figures shimmering in the distance, eerie apparitions haunting Alison’s subconsciousness. perhaps the most chilling image is the one which recurs throughout the series – Robert’s dead son, a sad, tiny figure in red, surely a nod towards Nic Roeg’s classic DON’T LOOK NOW. In the style of any series keen to get itself recommissioned, the final episode “The 7.59 Club” ends on a nail-biting cliffhangar as Robert is forced to confront head-on the reality of the afterlife he has denied for so long…

AFTERLIFE has been a surprise hit for ITV and it? been quickly commissioned for a second run. If you missed out, this rapid DVD release is an ideal way to catch up. The success of DOCTOR WHO has quite clearly opened the eyes of Britain? TV executives and, although AFTERLIFE has been ?n the shelf?for some time waiting a suitable broadcast slot, its success means we?e likely to see more TV of this sort on our screens in the coming years. And about time too.

THE DISC: Six episodes over two discs. Nowt in the way of extras save a couple of interesting commentaries. Buy it anyway.]]>

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