In the decade since Shaun of the Dead, UK zombies have faced cricket bats, Big Brother contestants, cockneys, strippers, and now, small town prejudice.
Set in the remote Northern village of Roarton, new three-part drama In the Flesh tells the story of Kieren Walker, an eighteen-year-old ‘cured’ zombie (or Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer to use the correct parlance), and his attempt to reintegrate back into family and community life.
Kieren’s return is met with hostility from Roarton’s local vigilante group, the Human Volunteer Force, which numbers the local vicar, the father of his former best friend, and his sister amongst its members. Having spent his pre-cure days tearing into human innards with the other ‘Rotters’, Kieren not only has to cope with the acrimony of the village, but also his guilt and reluctance to take a second stab at life.
Told over three sixty-minute episodes, In the Flesh swings the camera away from the now-familiar sight of the groaning undead up to their ears in viscera, and uses the zombie mythology to explore domestic issues of forgiveness and acceptance. Gore-fans shouldn’t be disheartened though, as early glimpses confirm there’s no shortage of rotting-face prosthetics and blood.
Appreciating that we’ve yet to see a full episode (a spoiler-free review will be coming your way as soon as we have), we’ve had a bash at summing up what to expect from In the Flesh using that preferred phrase of arse-covering politicians, ‘the best information available to us at the time’…
It’s about zombies
Specifically, post-treatment zombies who’ve been medicated to recover their humanity, and made-up to resemble their former selves. Like David Bowie’s alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth, a bit of foundation and a pair of coloured contact lenses provides PDS sufferers with enough cover to just about pass amongst the normals. The result is somewhat uncanny; human-like but not human, a bit like seeing Dale Winton up close.
We can expect action of the shotguns and chainsaw variety too, but also a sense of humour and a thread of social satire that ensures In the Flesh avoids taking itself too seriously. According to director Jonny Campbell (Doctor Who, Ashes to Ashes), the script confidently moves from grave and profound moments to drily comic ones, “It’s sweet, funny, sour-sweet, and you never really know what’s going to come at you next.”
It’s not really about zombies
You don’t need telling that sci-fi and supernatural creatures aren’t just the stuff of scary campfire stories, but have long been used as a mechanism for social comment. Drawing parallels between minority groups and the ‘otherness’ of non-humans is as old as the genre itself (see: a billion PhD theses on Dracula, Frankenstein and probably by now, True Blood), so when we say that In the Flesh isn’t about zombies, you know what we’re getting at.
Campbell describes the three-parter as turning “what’s now quite a familiar and well-trodden genre on its head”. By focusing on the plight of the zombie, Campbell says, “it shows some of the monstrous qualities present in human nature […] It’s using that extraordinary event to hone in on some of the ordinary characteristics of society and of family as a concept.”
So society, family, and what else? “Redemption, forgiveness, and battling against prejudices”, says writer Dominic Mitchell, and to hazard an informed guess, we’d add sexuality to that list.
It’s not The Walking Dead (though the potential nod in the lead’s surname hasn’t escaped us either…)
An obvious one, that, but judging by early reporting on the show, one worth mentioning all the same. Little positive can come from comparing a good-looking original BBC Three drama to AMC’s multi-million dollar venture, so how about we just don’t?
For the record, neither is it Warm Bodies, World War Z, or any one of a string of Resident Evil flicks. It’s a domestic drama, using the zombie mythology to – amongst other things – explore how families cope when their idea of who or what someone is undergoes a dramatic change. (If you absolutely have to draw a comparison, you’ll sound better informed throwing around a name like Babylon Fields, the 2007 CBS pilot that never made it to series, or Les Revenants, last year’s French TV adaptation of the 2004 film of the same name.)
Nor is it Last of the Summer Wine
By which we mean that director Jonny Campbell and co. deliberately rejected “twee chocolate box settings” for its Northern English tale, instead seeking out austere, “moody hills and moors” as the backdrop to their story.
Campbell wanted the location to feel abandoned, as if the village of Roarton “could have been forgotten by the government in a zombie apocalypse and forced to make their own laws”. Hence the desaturated colours of In the Flesh’s graffitied housing estate, tawdry fun-fair and bleak Northern coastline.
It’s from a new writer, and stars plenty of newcomers
The script comes from first-time TV writer Dominic Mitchell, and found its way to commission via BBC Writersroom scheme, Drama North (incidentally, if any of you are Salford-based, a free preview Writersroom screening of episode one is taking place on Thursday the 7th of March).
The show’s director has spoken warmly of the casting freedom afforded by working on a script by a first-time writer, and the pleasure of introducing new talent. Alongside the experienced likes of Ricky Tomlinson (The Royle Family) and Steve Evets (Rev, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), are new-ish talents Luke Newberry and Emily Bevan, and mint-fresh actors Harriet Cains and David Walmsley.
Harry Potter fans may also like to know that lead Luke Newberry (Anna Karenina, Quartet) had a cameo in the epilogue to the eighth and final film as the teenage Teddy Lupin on platform 9 and ¾.
It fills a very welcome gap
If we’ve read the stars correctly, then the three weeks occupied by In the Flesh on the BBC should just about overlap with the post-Being Human, pre-Doctor Who March gap, which is precisely when we’ll be thirsting for a fix of UK genre drama.
UPDATE: Though this may change, we’ve been informed that In the Flesh is due to start on BBC Three on Sunday the 17th of March.
Read more about In the Flesh, here.
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