TV Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles, Series 1

Sean Bean does Sean Bean in the slight oddity that is Series 1 of The Frankenstein Chronicles, good work too from Vanessa Kirby

“This will be my penance”

Just a quickie for this, as it was one of those shows I’ve been meaning to watch for ages due to the list of actors in its first series (rather than its subject). Elliot Cowan, Anna Maxwell Martin, Ryan Sampson, Ed Stoppard, Sam West…a supporting company right out of Clowns central casting.

Created and mostly written by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford, The Frankenstein Chronicles plays out as an “inspired by” Mary Shelley’s novel rather than a direct adaptation. It is essentially a 19th century police procedural but given we open with the discovery of a stitched-together body and its dramatis personae include William Blake and Shelley herself, it is clear what kind of universe we’re operating in.

Sean Bean plays John Marlott, a grizzled detective haunted by his past (as if there were any other kind) and by the revelation that the body is made up of the remains of 8 children. And as he delves into the murky waters of the crime, he has to determine whether there’s a copycat at work (for the novel was published a few years before) or if there’s other dark forces at work, perhaps opponents of Sir Robert Peel’s Anatomy Act. 

The atmosphere is thus naturally one of foreboding gloom and there are moments, especially early on, when the pacing is painfully slow. But the show soon finds its feet and has much of interest to say about the history of medicine as we know it, the intersection between religion and science at an entirely different time (albeit still so resonant) and the enduring faultlines of class.

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