“This isn’t a talk bloke with bolts in his head wandering around with his arms extended in front of him,” actor Ed Stoppard said at the press screening of the first episode of The Frankenstein Chronicles.
No, that is true. But The Frankenstein Chronicles does have Sean Bean, and for that we should be thankful.
The legendary Yorkshireman is the star copper of this beguiling and very dark period drama, which takes as its inspiration Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic about the fictional monster, whom Stoppard (who plays shady politico Daniel Hervey) described so eloquently.
Bean is an actor I have always admired. Often mocked by people who should know better, he can carry a show by himself and performs most people off the screen. His John Marlott is gruff, pained, sensitive, fair and decent. A real hero.
It’s London 1827 and bodies of children stitched together keep washing up on the shore. Who is behind it? Is it, as Tom Ward’s gruff home secretary Sir Robert Peel suspects, a conspiracy to blacken the new art of surgery? Or is it, as Bean’s Marlott believes, something even more sinister? Whatever the answer, Marlott is on the case.
This is a brave drama for ITV Encore to show so late at night. It’s slow, grisly, and probably won’t get many viewers, but it’s certainly bold.
Frankenstein author Mary Shelley will appear in later episodes, as will William Blake as himself (I am not sure what the Romantic poet and author of Songs of Innocence and Experience will have to offer, but time will tell.)
Full marks too for some intriguing colour-blind casting – Marlott’s partner is Nightingale, played with understated aplomb by black actor Richie Campbell (there is no evidence that London’s first police force had anything other than white officers).
And it’s quite funny to see them follow the tropes of modern cop shows in some of their procedural ticks. At one point they meet up not in a pub (a la Morse et al) but in a Regency Coffee House. Well, you would wouldn’t you?
The imagery is bleak, windswept and will require a tough stomach to watch. As for the villain Billy Oates (Robie Gee) we meet in episode one? He is quite a brute.
The show is also, like the bolt-headed stereotype, quite slow. But not slow enough that I won’t shuffle on to episode two.
The Frankenstein Chronicles continues on ITV Encore on Wednesdays at 10pm