The Frankenstein Chronicles

TV review by
Jenny Nixon, Common Sense Media
The Frankenstein Chronicles TV Poster Image
Gloomy 19th-century detective tale is clever but gory.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series focuses mainly on the supernatural-tinged mystery at its core, but touches on issues like class warfare, women's autonomy, and religion vs. medicine.

Positive Role Models & Representations

John Marlott forges ahead with his investigation, despite the physical and emotional toll it takes on him. He's not perfect, however, and can be dismissive of others and their safety. His assistant Nightingale takes a protective role with their witness Flora, and helps Marlott even when he's been dismissed, proving his worth. Flora makes the best of a bad situation, and tries to atone for her role in a girl's disappearance by aiding Marlott in deciphering clues.

Violence

Throats are cut, bodies are dismembered. There's a public hanging. Scenes of surgery and disfigured patients, including body parts floating in jars. A woman is choked, children are threatened. Several corpses are seen, including those of children. Characters fight, people are threatened with knives and a gun.

Sex

References to child prostitution and selling off a girl's virginity -- a lot of innuendo to that effect, though nothing graphic is seen. A brief scene featuring a raid on a packed whorehouse, people are seen fleeing, but it's hard to make out exactly what was going on. The sexually (and congenitally) transmitted disease syphilis is a running theme.

Language

Words like "bastard" and "hell" are used.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character ingests mercury, causing hallucinations. Other characters drink beer and wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Frankenstein Chronicles is a detective series set in 19th-century England. It stars Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) as an inspector assigned to discover who is cutting up and reassembling dead children -- a demented act seemingly inspired by the then-recently published novel Frankenstein. There's quite a bit of graphic imagery, from surgical autopsy scenes to violent and bloody murders. There's a cruel Fagin-like character who houses and abuses an army of kid thieves, and child prostitution is referenced as well. A character gets an abortion (it is spoken of after the fact, not shown). Several characters are infected with syphilis; the more advanced case (which involves facial disfigurement) is especially disturbing. A character ingests mercury, which causes hallucinations; others drink beer and wine. Fistfights occur and people are threatened with knives and guns. Several corpses (and parts of corpses) are seen, and there is a public hanging.

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What's the story?

THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES kicks off with the grisly discovery of a dead girl, washed up on the banks of the Thames -- and it only gets darker from there. Post-autopsy, we learn the girl's corpse was actually surgically assembled from the bodies of at least eight children, and Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward) assigns river policeman John Marlott to find the person or persons responsible for the heinous act. Peel has his own motivations for wanting to find a suspect, and the case dredges up emotional and physical demons for Marlott,  a widower with a troubled past. Marlott is assisted in his investigation by the earnest Sergeant Nightingale (Richie Campbell) and headstrong orphan girl Flora (Eloise Smythe), who wants to atone for her possible role in endangering other children. The crew's explorations lead them straight into London's seedy underbelly, full of money-grubbing graverobbers and menacing pimps -- but also into the acquaintance of some of the era's leading literary minds, such as William Blake and Mary Shelley, whose recently published novel Frankenstein may have served as inspiration for the crimes in question.

Is it any good?

Though the show's awkward title may suggest otherwise, this is less a straightforward horror series than it is a clever, atmospheric crime procedural -- sort of a souped-up Law and Order: SVU  set in 19th-century London. As John Marlott delves deeper into what may have spurred this outrageous crime, a real feeling of dread begins to permeate The Frankenstein Chronicles. Was it a copycat inspired by Mary Shelley's sensational novel? Or perhaps a jealous amateur scientist angered by Sir Robert Peel's proposed new legislation, the Anatomy Act? The act would mandate that only licensed physicians be able to practice medicine -- and that the deceased bodies of the poor become property of these budding surgeons, for educational purposes.

Though the series starts off a bit slow, and isn't above dipping into genre clichés at times, Sean Bean's gruff sincerity is eminently watchable, and the supporting cast is markedly strong. Some will compare the show to another serial killer-driven period piece, The Alienist -- but The Frankenstein Chronicles actually pre-dates that show by three years (it began airing in the UK in 2015) and manages to find its own unique -- if not a bit pulpy -- ways to examine issues of classism, faith, and the morality of medicine.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about character motivations in The Frankenstein Chronicles. What is it that drives John Marlott to continue pursuing the case, even after he's told it has been solved? Why does Flora agree to help Marlott and Nightingale?

  • Period dramas have to find ways to convey to the viewer where and when they're set. How does this drama tell the viewer where you are in space and time? Would you know without the opening titles? How?

  • There are many literary references and "Easter eggs" in The Frankenstein Chronicles. Some are overt, such as Marlott crossing paths with Mary Shelley and William Blake. Can you think of any other nods to famous literary figures in this series?

TV details

For kids who love dark drama

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