THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES
More than the sum of its parts
released 29 February 2015 | 12 | Blu- ray/ DVD
Director Benjamin Ross
Cast Sean Bean, Anna Maxwell Martin, Richie Campbell, Vanessa Kirby
Typical ITV. The Frankenstein Chronicles takes the first sci- fi novel and transforms it into another bleeding cop show... In most instances, that would be cause for serious annoyance, but happily, this is actually rather good, sitting somewhere between a period True Detective and Penny Dreadful.
It helps that it is its own story, rather than a straight adaptation. John Marlott ( Sean Bean) is a member of London’s river police in 1827. Still grieving the loss of his wife and daughter and ailing from a bout of syphilis, he discovers the body of a child. When it’s examined, however, it becomes clear that the corpse is a composite of different people. With the reluctant help of Mary Shelley, Marlott begins to uncover a sinister conspiracy that somehow links her culture- shocking novel to the case of a missing girl.
Bodysnatching, necrophilia, child murder... the show doesn’t shy away from some of the grubbier horrors of the period. This, combined with an unhurried pace and an overbearing grey/ green colour grade, lends the show a dour tone in its opening episodes. It’s handsome, for sure, but even scenes shot on sunny days look like The Walking Dead.
As the mystery unfolds, the series becomes far more interesting, engaging with some of the big themes of the period, including the battle between science and religion, and women’s rights. It’s very much a pop history portrayal of the period, but evocative all the same.
Sean Bean’s central performance carries the show. Playing a tough- but- war- weary veteran is hardly a stretch for Sheffield’s finest, but he foregrounds Marlott’s compassion, rather than his ability to knock heads together. Less successful, however, is the inclusion of real historical figures. Throwing in the likes of William Blake and – obliquely – Charles Dickens, makes the show’s world feel smaller and less believable.
Is this really SFX territory? For much of its run, The Frankenstein Chronicles keeps you guessing. Marlott has visions, but they may just be a side- effect of the mercury that he’s taking to ease his illness. The last few episodes, however, take a turn towards the fantastical, leading to a strange, slightly silly, but more or less satisfying conclusion. A second season would be welcome to explore the wide- ranging implications of the finale, but if, as seems likely, these six episodes are all there is then it’s a valiant effort to put a fresh spin on a well- worn tale.
Extras Two short featurettes ( seven minutes). Will Salmon
Marlott is said to have served in the 95 Rifles – the same regiment Richard Sharpe ( Bean’s breakthrough role) was in.
“I was in the film on the previous page too, you know.”