If I Cannot Inspire Love, I Will Cause Fear
There are very few stories which have their creators present in them. In the whole list of contemporary movies we have become familiar with, only Marvel’s Stan Lee successfully pulling this off. Yet, The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015) gives us something better. We witness the recently widowed Mary Shelley in the midst of her 1818 story and we know for the first time that Frankenstein exists in real life.
The Frankenstein Chronicles begins with the discovery of a cadaver with different body parts. The body has just washed up on shore; a boy’s wrist stitched to a girl’s arm, blood visible on the lips, and skin wrinkled from the water that brought it to land. John Marlott (Sean Bean), a Thames River police inspector, has been called to the scene. Upon examination with the medical examiner, we soon discover with horror that the corpse is an assemblage of many body parts from eight different children.
As we try to contain our stomachs at home, the home secretary Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward), arrives on scene and after many questions, tasks John with investigating the crime. Regency London holds no glam as John must toil through the mud, streets, morgue, hospitals, boat houses, question nobles and criminals, just to find out the truth. All the while, he battles with his own sickness – syphilis, a sickness that has claimed the lives of his wife and baby years before this crime.
Things are not always what they appear; the priests aren’t innocent, the doctors don’t really care for saving lives, and dead bodies come to life in this series. As John Marlott says to Nightingale, “Sir William and Garnet were working together to resurrect the dead. It did get there by accident. But not that way. It moved, Nightingale.”
The first season of six episodes ends so ironically – the hunter becomes the hunted. When John eventually discovers the mad scientist behind the Frankenstein murders, the galvanist himself, he gets hung for his troubles but comes back to life. John becomes everything Mary Shelley writes about; alive, unable to die, skin stitched and pale – “If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”
Though this TV series may have the common features of a good detective story (the crime, the detective, villains who intend to commit more crimes, and wrongly accused suspects), it should be in the horror category. Aside from stories like Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, all stories set during this era in England have been spiced with fear. The scenery itself leaves no room for questions on the subject. One always gets the feeling that something is lurking just around the corner, just out of your vision. Whether it be a vampire watching from the shadows or The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, you can just touch the suspense coming off your TV screen.
The Frankenstein Chronicles explores certain aspects that are metaphysically conformed with the requirements of horror fiction. It isn’t just enough to fear. Horror fiction also involves creating a being to be feared but can hardly, if not impossibly be defeated. As this story does, unlike most crime fiction stories, season one doesn’t end with the arrest of the perpetrator. Viewers know his identity and Frankenstein seems content with what he has become. The knowledge that Mary Shelley’s monster still walks amongst us, undead, remains the scariest news ever.
The Frankenstein Chronicles has an 82% approval rating on rotten tomatoes. With cast members like Sean Bean, Anna Maxwell Martin, Vanessa Kirby, Steven Berkoff, and Deirdre Mullins playing major roles in this British television series, it’s no wonder it has become a must-watch for crime gothic story lovers everywhere. It is doing well as a period crime piece, but would do better in the horror category.
The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015) Official Trailer