I am very used to people messing around with established works to produce something inferior. There is the 2015 movie ‘Victor Frankenstein’ for example. I like to think that James McAvoy was as disappointed with the script as I was, hence why he played the title character in such a pantomime fashion. Neither he nor Daniel Radcliffe could infuse director Paul McGuigan’s effort with any integrity. It seems that despite Mary Shelley’s seminal work being such an original piece of imaginative fiction few people know what to do with it. When I decided to watch ‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’ I did so only in hope but with low expectation. I am happy to say that Barry Langford and Benjamin Ross’s production did not disappoint.
Set in London during the middle 19th century ‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’ does not attempt to retell the story of the book but rather weave the narrative into Victorian history. This allows the writers a certain degree of latitude while at the same time acknowledging the original source material. It also allows the plot to take several surprising twists and turns that creates palpable tension and a growing fascination with the macabre. The setting helps add to the Gothic texture with some authentic renditions of the poorer parts of London.
Sean Bean plays the protagonist John Marlott, an officer in the River Police who discovers the body of a child on the banks of the Thames that appears to be constructed from the bodies of several other children. In a time of political tension caused by the rise of science and the reforms of Sir Robert Peel Marlott is appointed to head up an investigation into the matter by Peel, as Home Secretary. Recruiting Bow Street Runner Nightingale Marlott soon comes to the conclusion that someone is using Mary Shelley’s book as a blueprint for murder. The strands of the case are many, however, and they lead to many suspects and a varied number of scenes of crime.
As a straightforward crime drama ‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’ might quickly run out of steam, even with the maze-like plot, but the writers develop various themes to explore and introduce new characters at opportune moments. The cast also proves remarkable convincing, especially Sean Bean in the lead role. He is a man of undoubted courage, some intelligence, a good heart, but haunted by the death of his wife and child, an even that the blames himself for. At times he seems objectionable, slow on the uptake, and even undeserving of sympathy, like a real person can be. As a policeman he is dogged, loyal, and incorruptible. It is these latter qualities that drive him onward in the second half of the story even when he has lost all authority, his reputation, and the support of everyone who thought that they knew him.
‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’ pays homage to Mary Shelley’s novel. It builds upon her ideas to present a new story that captures all macabre fascination of the original by incorporating it into the history of Victorian England. A dark and disturbing tale of surprising originality.