Seasons 1 and 2 of The Frankenstein Chronicles hit Netflix on February 20th.
By Greg Wheeler
The Frankenstein Chronicles starts slowly and takes a few episodes to hit its stride but once it does, there’s an endearing, gripping mystery waiting to be discovered. Charismatic Sean Bean certainly elevates the show with his charm; the troubled character of John Marlott is a worthy protagonist and the way he wrestles with his inner demons gives Chronicles a more three-dimensional and character driven feel. The show is dark and moody and although it does end with numerous questions left unanswered, the six episodes that are here hold a satisfying crime mystery within them that’s well paced right through to its satisfying but open ending.
Based loosely on Frankenstein’s monster, Chronicles explores 1820s London, years after Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein has been released. Someone is trying to reanimate the dead and after finding a stitched together body on the shoreline, Detective John Marlott (Sean Bean) is given the case of finding out who’s behind this. There’s a hint of science fiction at play here but the bulk of the show is consumed by the mystery of finding out where a young girl called Alice is and who the culprits are behind the dead body. Adding some weight to the plot is Marlott’s illness and grief toward his dead wife whilst juggling the investigation itself. There’s a lot going on here and it so easily could have fallen into an incoherent mess but Frankenstein Chronicles is written beautifully and these concurrent story themes harmoniously work together.
Although Chronicles never really achieves anything groundbreaking or innovative in its execution, it does manage to deliver a believably written, historically sound drama. The dialogue certainly sounds authentic for the time period; a mixture of cockney colloquialisms and stiff upper class dialect helps to drive the wedge between the rich and the poor that captures the attitude of the time perfectly. There’s a good amount of world building too and the way Frankenstein Chronicles shows the different walks of life for the minor characters, from grimy, mud spattered markets to the lavish upper class homes, there’s a great bit of juxtaposition at play here between classes. The blue-grey colour palette dominates many of the scenes too giving Chronicles a distinct coldness that accentuates this too.
Once The Frankenstein Chronicles gets going, there’s a lot to like here. The first initial episodes do take a while to get going and whilst ordinarily this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, in a 6 episode series this does weigh heavily on the overall quality of the season. It’s worth persevering with though and ultimately the mystery is what drives the narrative forward. With an inspired Sean Bean at the helm, some of the supporting cast do feel a little wooden and stiff in their delivery, especially alongside a talent like Bean. Coupled with a few awkward edits that cut the musical score abruptly, Frankenstein Chronicles certainly has a few issues that hold it back from being the great show it easily could become in the future.
If you can persevere through the first couple of episodes and can excuse some of the wooden acting from the supporting cast, there’s a good period drama at play here. The story starts slowly too but as the mystery unravels it becomes a lot more gripping. The six episode length is frustratingly short, with the best episodes of the series reserved for the final two, but it’s also testament to how much the show improves over its run time. A good blend of accurate 19th Century attitude and a slight science fiction undertone to an otherwise by the numbers crime mystery helps The Frankenstein Chronicles stand out. With such an open ending, a second season has thankfully been green-lit and a returning Sean Bean can only mean positive things. If the next season can keep the momentum going that the final two episodes achieved here, the future certainly looks exciting for this period drama.
I give The Frankenstein Chronicles a B-.