When Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley released her novel “Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus” back in the year 1818 I doubt even her fertile imagination could have guessed the journey her creation would take, and over the following two hundred years it did take some marvelous turns. The author may have lived to see “The Monster” depicted on stage in a variety of productions but since then her story of mad science and revenge has seen nearly countless interpretations on stage, screen and television; from the classic 1931 James Whale movie starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff to now this BBC production of The Frankenstein Chronicles which takes the gothic tale of science and terror into the world of murder, mystery and political intrigue.
Set in 19th Century London this series follows the investigations of Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean), a river police officer given the task of solving a particularly gruesome mystery. While rounding up a group of opium smugglers the body of a young girl is discovered washed up on the banks of the Thames, but what makes this unusual is that the body is later discovered to be a patchwork of parts that belong to at least eight different children. This discovery puts Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward) in a bad spot as he is currently trying to pass “The Anatomy Act” which would prevent unlicensed doctors from operating in and around London, and he believes this stitched up abomination is an attempt by the opposition to discredit his fellow surgeons. Leading the opposition is Lord Daniel Hervey (Ed Stoppard), an impoverished nobleman who believes that this act is for the sole benefits of the rich and would prevent the average person from getting decent medical care.
It’s between these two forces that poor John Marlott finds himself trapped, not helped by the seemingly amorous attentions of Daniel Hervey’s beautiful sister Lady Jemima Hervey (Vanessa Kirby) who can be delightfully distracting, and of course the fact that the slums of London are incredibly dangerous, even without body snatchers practicing mad science on children, it all makes his job nigh impossible. Yet good ole Marlott isn’t alone on this hunt as he is paired up with Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell), a Bow Street Runner that though a little green around the edges turns out to be a stalwart ally when things begin to get messy. For a bit of extra tension a little spice is added to the mix in the form of a homeless girl named Floras (Eloise Smyth), who Marlott saves from the clutches off a nasty bloke named Billy Oates (Robbie Gee), a hardened street-smart criminal who is kind of a black version of Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist, and he becomes a chief suspect in the child snatching.
The Frankenstein Chronicles is a dark and brutal show with a mystery that keeps both Inspector Marlott and us the viewers completely engaged, and to help the story along the BBC populated this series with some of the best actors in the business. And this great cast is is aptly aided by the show’s amazing production values as one can almost smell the putrid air of the slums or feel chilled to bone as we watch the poor unwashed masses huddled in fear and despair, and over the course of the first two seasons we find ourselves helplessly lost in the world created by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford.
This is obviously not a straight adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel but instead posits a theory as to where the author got her inspiration for her finest creation, Marlott even crosses paths with Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin) and English poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (Steven Berkoff) who both steer our hero down his dark path. I don’t want to get any further into spoilers as that would deprive you of much of the fun this show has to offer, but I’ll just say that the casting of Sean Bean as dogged police officer haunted by his past, sometimes more than figuratively, was pure brilliance on the producers part and the journey he takes us on I hope doesn’t end with just two seasons.
Recently we have been subjected to less than stellar movies inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel, the godawful I, Frankenstein and Victor Frankenstein for instance, but if you have liked British-American horror television dramas like Penny Dreadful you will mostly likely get a kick out of The Frankenstein Chronicles as it is much in the same vein, if a little lighter on the fantasy elements, and with Sean Bean leading such an endeavor how can you not at least check it out?
There are currently two seasons now available on Netflix and as the streaming service has purchased it as a “Netflix Original” hopefully this means they are willing to fund further chapters in this fantastic world of mystery, political intrigue, corruption, science and murder. If you are a fan of Gothic horror and police procedurals this could be the show you were looking for, if not check it out simply for the amazing way it shows life in London, England in the 19th Century, you will not be disappointed.