Way back in 2015, The Frankenstein Chronicles premiered in the U.K., but just last month it showed up on Netflix here in the states. At least now we get both seasons, the second having aired in 2017. As the title implies, this is a riff on Mary Shelley’s story, but rather obliquely so.
Set in 1827 London, the series follows a police inspector, John Marlott (played by Sean Bean), as he investigates some grisly deaths of children sewn together. The story weaves together early 19th-century literature, mysticism, medicine, and politics into a police procedural that is pretty fascinating.
However, the costumes are mostly dark, dull, middling-class 1820s, and not exciting to talk about.
Still, I do recommend The Frankenstein Chronicles for the following reasons…
It’s got Sean Bean (and he doesn’t die…)
He’s a great actor and easy on the eyes, so this should be reason enough to watch The Frankenstein Chronicles. Bean’s Inspector Marlott is a troubled soul, having lost his wife and baby tragically and probably due to his own fault. Strong, sensitive, faulty, broken, that’s how we love our Sean Bean!
It has a major black character that fits in a historical fashion
Sergeant Nightengle (played by Richie Campbell) is Marlott’s sidekick and assistant, and he’s a fairly fully fleshed out character. In the first episode, his backstory is given that he was a foundling and went into a trade guild at first, then got into the constabulary. His boss is a subtly racist jerk to him and foists Nightengle off on Marlott, who treats him like just one of the guys.
It’s great for literary nerds like me!
You may think this is just a murder-mystery, but really, it’s a literary geekfest! Mary Shelley (played by Anna Maxwell Martin) becomes a central character, and the poetry and artwork of William Blake (played briefly by Steven Berkoff) becomes an important clue. I couldn’t find evidence that the two writers met, much the less that she was at his deathbed, but Blake did illustrate some of Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft’s works, so there was a connection, however tenuous.
The mystery story isn’t super predictable
I haven’t finished the first season yet, but as each episode ends, I just don’t know where it’s going. And that’s a good thing! It’s not slow and dull, it’s teasing and intriguing due to the high quality of the acting, in particular.
The horror story is spooky yet not overly gory or gritty
While the topic is gruesome murders, there are few lingering shots of the bodies or dwelling upon the scenes of the crimes. Sure, the look is dark and moody everywhere, but there’s more close-ups of fantastical artwork by William Blake than on blood and guts or even dirt and filth. The focus isn’t on ‘look how grimy ye olden times were!’ but instead it’s a more philosophical look at the meaning of life and death, which is honestly what Shelley’s Frankenstein is about.
Have you seen The Frankenstein Chronicles?