The great gothic stitch-up

SFX - - Reviews -

UK Broad­cast ITV Encore, fin­ished

US Broad­cast A&E, TBC

Episodes Re­viewed 1.01-1.06

Al­though The Franken­stein Chron­i­cles ap­pears to have been con­ceived as a one-off se­ries, you can’t help but won­der what a se­ries two might be like. Very dif­fer­ent is the ob­vi­ous an­swer. The fi­nal episode – which clearly con­tains the con­ceit from which the en­tire story was back­wards en­gi­neered – is the very def­i­ni­tion of a game-changer but one which sets up a premise you can’t help won­der­ing about.

Fan­ci­ful? Hell, what about this gothic chiller isn’t? Set in what’s near as dam­mit an alternate history early 19th cen­tury, it plays so fast and loose with es­tab­lished facts that this is like the muddy, meta-flip­side to Penny Dread­ful; as op­posed to be­ing a mash-up of some of the cen­tury’s great­est fic­tional mon­sters, The Franken­stein Chron­i­cles has the great cre­ators of the time – Mary Shel­ley, Dick­ens, Blake – in­volved in a grisly mystery in­volv­ing stitched-to­gether corpses, the Anatomy Act (which sought to reg­u­late sur­geons and the use of ca­dav­ers) and Robert Peel’s for­ma­tion of a po­lice force.

Oh, and Sean Bean as John Mar­lott, a syphilitic river cop whom Peel brings in to oversee the case. Well, it makes a change from al­co­holic or OCD po­lice­men.

The tone is all grim and gritty, like Ken Loach do­ing Bleak House. The plot, though, is unashamedly lurid. This is a six-part po­lice pro­ce­dural with pulpy hor­ror trim­mings. It’s a heady con­coc­tion that doesn’t skimp on shock­ing im­agery and queasy con­cepts.

Oc­ca­sion­ally the tone strays a lit­tle too far into penny dread­ful ter­ri­tory. A mon­strous child­catcher comes across like Fa­gin meets a Bond vil­lain’s hench­man and it jars. There’s also the slightly nag­ging feel­ing when it’s all over that the plot has been too much a slave to the “big rev­e­la­tion”, pop­u­lated by cogs in a ma­chine.

As a piece of quirky, grisly TV hor­ror, though, it’s pleas­ingly goth­tas­tic. Dave Golder

“If you say I die in ev­ery­thing, I’ll kill you.”

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