It’s that man again! Check out the new TV se­ries star­ring Sean Bean.

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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.”


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.

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