THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES
It’s that man again! Check out the new TV series starring Sean Bean.
Wouldn’t you know it, you wait ages for a new version of Frankenstein to show up and three come along at once. Daniel Radcliffe’s big-screen Victor Frankenstein is due in December (and previewed on p86), while Fox are giving the Creature a modern day makeover with Lookinglass in January. But first off the slab is The Frankenstein Chronicles, where Sean Bean’s bobby hunts a killer stitching bits of his young victims back together in 19th century London. The flat-top influx may seem sudden, but writer/director Benjamin Ross reckons Frankenstein is always lurking in the shadows.
“If you poke around he’s always been there,” Ross tells Red Alert. “I think that’s partly because the book’s in the public domain, and you know you’re going to find an audience for it. But it’s deeper than that. It’s a very modern creation myth. The afterlife and resurrection, these themes are still on people’s minds.”
What sets The Frankenstein Chronicles apart from its competition (apart from the allimportant Sean Bean factor) is the way it blends fact and fiction. The show begins 14 years after the publication of The Modern Prometheus. Mary Shelley is a character in the show, as is William Blake, a young Charles Dickens and several politicians of the day, while one of the plot’s key catalysts is the Anatomy Act of 1832, designed to put grave robbers out of business. In coming up with the story, Ross was inspired by Sarah Wise’s social history book The Italian Boy, about the investigation into the delivery of a child’s body at a teaching hospital, a body so fresh he could only have been murdered.
“I looked into making [The Italian Boy], and it turned out a number of people had tried and failed,” Ross explains. “Then I thought, ‘Here’s the real world behind Frankenstein.’ Bodies overflowing from graveyards, different attitudes towards the afterlife, conflict between science and religion… So I thought, instead of doing the true story behind Frankenstein, why not do this as Frankenstein and inhabit the imaginative reality of that book, but with a view to returning to the conditions that made it so potent in the first place.”
The show started life as a film franchise in Ross’s mind before a meeting with executive producer Tracey Scoffield saw it become a six-parter for ITV Encore. “Originally we had Channel 4 in mind, and they wanted eight parts,” Ross recalls. “But I think we wound up with the perfect number because it’s a very contained story. It’s focused on the experience of the main character, so it’s just the right balance to keep you close to Sean Bean’s head.”
LIFE IMITATING ART
Bean plays John Marlott, a widowed DI who discovers the washed-up body of a young girl in the show’s opening moments – a monstrous composite corpse with the limbs of several children sewn together. Unlike the show’s historical figures, Marlott is an original character. “There is a detective figure in [The Italian Boy], very different from Marlott, but that was the starting point,” Ross says. “It led me to the realisation that you can tell the Frankenstein story as a procedural and approach it from the outside as somebody who’s trying to figure out what’s going on. We run with the idea that if there was somebody doing these experiments it could mean a number of different things, particularly in light of the fact that the book’s already been written. Is somebody imitating the book?”
But what about Doctor Frankenstein and his infamous Creature? There’s talk of a monster abducting children among London’s street urchins. And obviously someone is stitching bodies back together. But Ross is tight-lipped on how much of them we’ll get to see.
“When you’re in the world of Frankenstein you’ve got to invoke monsters and the fear that they’ll appear, but detective stories are very hard technically,” Ross explains. “They’re a bit like a magic act. You’ve got to keep a lot of different theories alive in an audience’s mind in order to guide them to a revelation that’s satisfying. It’s made doubly technical when you’re dealing with something like Frankenstein, where audiences are bringing their own level of expectation to it. That’s really the big test of something like this: to what extent do you draw on the familiar and then turn it so it’s surprising? Hopefully you’ll get a perspective which is not what we’re used to.”
The Frankenstein Chronicles airs from 11 November on ITV Encore.
It’s just the right balance to keep you close to Sean Bean’s head
“And then the guy you thought was the hero of the story gets beheaded.”
Whatever he’s pointing at, Sean Bean ain’t interested.
Anna Maxwell Martin plays Mary Shelley.
You won’t believe what the papers are saying about Cameron now.