REVIEW: The Frankenstein Chronicles Episode One
The opening to “A World Without God”, episode one of ITV’s new drama The Frankenstein Chronicles, is appropriately dark, gloomy and mysterious. We firstly find Sean Bean a.k.a. Inspector John Marlott on the River Thames acting undercover to catch some smugglers in the act.
After apprehending the perpetrators, the real focus of the scene arrives via the murky waters. At first it appears to be the corpse of a child. Grotesquely, on closer inspection, it is revealed to be a collection of crudely stitched together body parts in the shape of a human child.
This provides the first, genuinely unexpected, jump scare moment. Marlott bends down to tenderly hold the “girl’s” hand when suddenly she grabs him back. Adrenaline instantly coursing through my veins, I was glad for the appearance of the credits to regain some composure. This was clearly not going to be the easy ride I thought it would be.
Sean Bean is our guide through this dreary and ominous 19th century London. He plays the gruff, hardened character we are used to seeing in Bean – but he does it so well he’s forgiven for his typecasting. In flashbacks we learn he has his own dark past to contend with that clearly influences his gritty determination in the present.
The proposed “Anatomy Act” (which would eventually be the 1832 Anatomy Act) drives the storyline. In response to the shocking illegal trade of corpses for dissection, British Parliament proposed that anyone intending to practise anatomy required a license. They were to be given legal access to unclaimed corpses, in particular those who had died in prison or a workhouse. This caused uproar in the country with many accusing the government of betraying the poor.
In the midst of all this political unrest, Sir Robert Peel asks Inspector Marlott to investigate a series of strange and chilling murders that seem to be related to the found corpse. When a surgeon examines the stitched-together “girl’s” body, he comments that it is a “composite” made up of eight different children. Icky.
Marlott employs a young street urchin to investigate reports of missing children. He is frightened by his findings and begs Marlott not to send him back on the hunt. Suffice to say, the next time we see the little boy, he’s looking a lot less lively…
The show succeeds in creating truly scary scenes, leaving viewers tense and intrigued throughout. Seemingly Fagan/Bill Sykes’ inspired character “Billy” makes for an intensely threatening villain for this debut episode. He burns a small girl with a hot poker and offers up an older girl to Marlott with the words, “you’re the first”. I wonder if we’ll see more of him. Is he the “monster” that all of the children are frightened of?
The programme is satisfyingly brimming with real elements of gothic horror – we rarely see anything in daylight – and there’s plenty of grotesque imagery and genuine mystery. What makes this programme really successful though is the blurred line between reality and the supernatural; nothing is too farfetched or fantastical to believe, making it all the more horrific.
I will be tuning in to episode two for sure, but this time I will come prepared with a pillow to hide behind.
The Frankenstein Chronicles airs on ITV Encore at 10pm.