As we reach the mid-point in the 6-part series, The Frankenstein Chronicles continues to move at a measured pace. After last week’s lecture hall experiments and William Blake’s (Steven Berkoff) promises of “the beast with a face of a man”, there’s little talk of galvanism or mystical forces this time around. If the show were to decelerate anymore, it may be in need of a little defibrillation itself; but again, this week there’s a pleasure to be had in an atmospheric unfolding of events around one central story line, which has been largely absent from all of the sugar-loaded “horror” shows that have been on television this past year or so.
The Frankenstein Chronicles’ deliberate revealing of details, when used to examine conflicting “anti-rational” psychological/emotional/physical desires with the “rational” legal/religious/moral laws of society — all thrown on the alter of modernity and progress — is very much in the gothic tradition. What might next be about to lumber around the corner could be a reflection of the individual’s own impulses, but it would still be as deadly as some ancient evil or freshly minted psychopath.
The show wallows in the aftermath of desire; the constant flashbacks to John Marlott’s (Sean Bean) family, alternating between baptism and funeral — whilst Marlott has the same defeated look of shame throughout — are testament to that. When the mercury-addled Inspector looks into the mirror and sees a face ravaged by tertiary stage syphilis (a guilty symptom of physical pleasure, or his “carelessness” as he puts it), the monstrous hallucination also reflects his psychological deterioration. It might not help that prior to these events taking place, Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin) ramps up the guilt trip by pointedly stating the text-book observation that instead of people flocking to “creatives” like her when things go awry, they should be “looking in the mirror and seeing what is strange and uncanny within themselves”.
Mary Shelly is also given a little more breathing room this week. No longer a great wall of implacability — more of a speed-bump of sternness –Shelley reveals a substantial amount more than she did when chastising Marlott last time we met her. Yet, Shelley does still stick the knife in a few times just to keep things frosty between them, thereby allowing Lady Harvey (Vanessa Kirby) to appear more charitable by comparison, although I’m not falling for her doe-eyed, Saint Harvey of London routine just yet…
The full 1,900 word version of this review is published at PopMatters.com, where you can read the rest of the article for free.