As I settled down to watch The Frankenstein Chronicles on ITV encore on a misty evening in Hyde Park, I was expecting an eerie, fog-filled period drama with a whole lot of Sean Bean, and I wasn’t disappointed. A re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein set in 19th century London, the first two episodes center around the discovery of a mysterious body on the Thames shoreline, and the disappearance of children in the heart of London. Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) is made head investigator of the case after finding a young girl’s corpse, who appears to have been assembled out of dismembered body parts. The plot thickens as Marlott hears word of a ‘monster’ who is behind this and other child disappearances.
I thought the opening episode was visually striking, as scenes of Smithfield meat market, filled with hanging carcasses and the sounds of braying cattle, provide a gruesome backdrop for Marlott’s hunt for the missing children. Scenes of child prostitution and body snatching paint a grim picture of London’s underworld that Marlott begins to discover. Shots of London’s grimy streets, peeling walls and foggy pathways contrast with eerie scenes of the Thames shoreline, maintaining an unnerving atmosphere throughout that kept me on edge.
I thought Sean Bean’s portrayal of the haggard Inspector Marlott was particularly good, as he portrays a brooding character (who seems on the verge of a mental breakdown) very effectively. As he begins to discover the dark underworld of London his troubled personal life, in which he battles his own demons, is soon made apparent. The strain of his tragic past is revealed as the first episode unfolds, in which he suffers from a series of dreams and hallucinations, making him a vulnerable character as well as one who appears outwardly driven.
In terms of historical background, the opening episodes explore 19th century worries surrounding the expansion of science and its growing potential to do harm rather than good – perhaps to even create monsters through meddling with dead bodies. At the forefront of this retelling are debates surrounding the proposed Anatomy Act (passed in 1832), which expanded the ability of doctors to dissect donated bodies. In particular, a scene in the second episode, where a child’s corpse is made to move through the application of electrical current to a muscle, makes for particularly unnerving viewing. The unsettling undertone of the drama has me hooked, and I think it has the potential to be an interesting, if not more alarming, version of Mary Shelley’s classic tale.