“You don’t choose the spirits. They choose you.”- Alison Mundy (Afterlife)
Spooky Sunday #4…
A few years ago I stumbled upon an obscure British series starring Lesley Sharp, whom up until that point, I had only seen in an episode of Doctor Who with David Tennant called Midnight. That performance alone was enough to make me a fan of hers forever and drew me to ITV’s Afterlife, another great Netflix find.
Clerkenwell Films and Stephen Volk (best known for the BBC series Ghostwatch) brought us Afterlife (2005-2006). Afterlife follows the struggles of modern day psychic/medium Alison Mundy (Lesley Sharp – From Hell, The Full Monty). However, it takes a different approach to the classic ghost story and its concept differs slightly from its American cousins Medium (2005-2011) and Ghost Whisperer (2005-2010). Afterlife centers on the unlikely and tumultuous friendship between the intense and unstable clairvoyant Alison and skeptical psychologist/university lecturer Robert Bridge (Andrew Lincoln – Love Actually, The Walking Dead).
“You don’t see what I see. You don’t feel what I feel. You can’t help me.” – Alison Mundy (Afterlife)
She Sees Dead People…
While it’s true Alison Mundy shares much in common with her American psychic cousins, especially Allison Dubois (Patricia Arquette in Medium), our Alison is much more the tragic figure. When we first meet Alison she has moved to Bristol for a fresh start, running from a past filled with tragedy and pain. This Alison is fragile, teetering on the brink between psychic and psychotic. Given to emotional outbursts and hysteria, it’s easy to see why her claims are initially dismissed as the ravings of a disturbed woman. Alison Mundy is truly haunted in more ways than one.
Without friends or the support of a loving husband and family to keep her rooted in the more earthly and mundane, unlike Allison Dubois, there is no one to keep Alison Mundy grounded as she approaches the edge of madness. She has no such lifeline, no community to draw strength from. She’s a recluse — downtrodden, sad, lonely… broken.
“I’m entitled to ignore you, why shouldn’t I?” – Robert Bridge (Afterlife)
Alison’s only connection to the land of the living comes in the form of Robert Bridge (Andrew Lincoln) who is similarly haunted and grieving the loss of his young son Josh. Robert is a dyed in the wool skeptic who eschews anything remotely smacking of faith or religion, let alone the occult. He sees Alison as a subject of a science experiment, a puzzle in need of solving and less of a human being in need. Robert approaches Alison to become her biographer — an academic work for the university press — while at the same time attempting to debunk her work as a medium, only to find through studying her his own faith in science shaken.
Robert accompanies Alison as she attempts to eke out a living by putting on John Edwards style performances, coming into contact with desperate souls hoping to connect with loved ones on the other side. In doing so, he uncovers Alison’s deepest, darkest secrets, and at the same time discovers a great deal more about himself. While ghosts and the occult are key players, the real story lies here, in the deep chasm dividing Alison and Robert.
Alison is a fully realized character with a great story arc—aided in large part by a soul-wrenching performance given by the brilliant Lesley Sharp. Robert’s journey is no less gratifying than Alison’s and Andrew Lincoln gives his all. Alison’s fierce intensity comes head to head up against Robert’s cool and detached approach, making for some of the hardest and most satisfying scenes to watch.
Afterlife draws its strength from thoughtful and intelligent scripts and compelling characters brought to life with powerful performances from its talented leads Sharp and Lincoln. By contrast, Afterlife’s low-key visuals offer us only glimpses of the great beyond. Unlike others in the genre, there is little gore or over the top special effects, often leading the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions about the nature of life after death.
This short-lived TV series resonates with me the same way minor chords in music do. It has the bittersweet longing of melancholy that makes you feel deeply for the characters. You can empathize with Alison’s and Robert’s pain as keenly as your own and your heart truly aches for all they have suffered. By the end of 14 episodes, Alison and Robert’s journeys seem, in retrospect, meant to be — two souls brought together by tragedy to help one another, to lead each other through the darkness towards the light.
Though heart-breaking and soul-rending at times, Afterlife is a beautiful, yet underrated British supernatural drama worthy of attention. If you’re a fan of Medium or Ghost Whisperer, you’ll love Afterlife.
Afterlife is available on DVD from BBC Worldwide via Amazon.com or for streaming via Youtube.