More than the sum of its parts

SFX - - Reviews -

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.”

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