Netflix has made an absolute killing by plundering the big networks for their overlooked, hidden gems, and they have done it again with The Frankenstein Chronicles. It stars Sean Bean as Inspector John Marlott, a grieving husband and father tasked with a case involving murdered children, their bodies found chopped into pieces and reassembled. Through a series of flashbacks, dream sequences and other such foreshadowing elements, we’re provided the notion that these children may be the failed experiments of some mad scientist trying to reanimate dead issue.
Altogether, it’s a familiar story. A cop plagued by his own demons must hunt down an odious murderer in a fallen world. Ultimately, Sean Bean is the main draw for this series and without his gravitas, the moral weight of the story would propel it onto laughable hyperbole. He’s one of those actors who carries every scene he’s in, making other lesser lights shine brighter from just being in his orbit. Marlott exudes a damaged competence, a moral conscience plagued with doubt and guilt. In flashback scenes we catch glimpses of him as a younger, happier man, in love with his wife, and doting on his child, but return to the story world to see him standing over her grave, dealing with his own crisis of faith.
Items and questions of faith permeate the story at every level. From Marlott’s private demons down to the core of the setting itself. It’s supposed to be Dickensian London, but the conditions in this fictional interpretation would give him enough writing material for three lifetimes. The world bears more of a resemblance to the notion of a post-lapsarian fallen world than Dickensian England. Hope is a fiction and kindness a pittance. Life here is a Hobbesian nightmare – short, brutish and cruel. Strange, grubby children hobble through the streets in search of coin. Crime and desperation become a way of life, and violence is always just around the corner. The first episode is aptly called A World Without God. Nice place, I know.
For the lit-snob in the crowd, we have appearances from William Blake on his deathbed and Mary Shelley herself. There’s no sign of Percy Bysshe-Shelley, except in passing. He’s dead – presumably too soft to live in the fallen world daily inhabited by his lost, haunted wife.
The final take on The Frankenstein Chronicles is that it’s a beautifully realized world, with a slightly formulaic, over-done plot. There are a handful of surprises in the usual, predictable places, but Sean Bean’s tortured performance more than makes up for anything otherwise lost in the predictability. You also can’t go wrong in that the seasons are only six episodes long, with each episode coming in at 48 minutes. Perfect for binge watching. Both seasons are on Netflix, but there are rumors of a third being filmed.