There have been plenty of Frankenstein ‘reimaginings’ (as we call them these days) over the years, but one excellent recent example didn’t even feature a Frankenstein at all.
The Frankenstein Chronicles was filling our home screens (albeit tucked away on ITV Encore) in late 2015, just as the big screen gave us Victor Frankenstein – a disappointing reworking, which aimed to do for this film classic what Guy Ritchie had done for Sherlock Holmes. It managed the impressive period sets, lots of noise, shouting and fighting, but not much else.
Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is promoted to a main role (the Watson to Frankenstein’s Holmes), but the central characters aren’t very engaging, and even the big climactic scene in a Scottish castle doesn’t have much to commend it, apart from an appearance by Mark Gatiss.
In contrast, The Frankenstein Chronicles was produced on a much lower budget, by the talented folk at Rainmark Films. But it was much more gripping, and dealt a final episode that had such unexpected twists, it left me in a state which a younger person might describe as OMG WTF.
Set in London in 1827, it doesn’t actually feature Frankenstein, but centres on a River Police officer, played by Sean Bean. Instead of following Frank in his lab, this focuses on the investigation which follows the discovery of a child’s body – stitched together from the parts of several kids – washed up on the banks of the Thames.
This London is cold and dirty, and a pretty monstrous place to live – with hunger, disease, and violence the everyday realities. It also involves some real-life characters – Robert Peel, William Blake, ‘Boz’ (the young reporter Charles Dickens?), and Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, as well as smart references to other period TV pieces.
No more spoilers, because as I write this (January 1st 2016) you probably haven’t seen it yet (why was it hidden away on that channel at 10pm in midweek?); but I will tell you I found it cleverly written, brilliantly acted, good looking, gripping, and ultimately shocking.
Most importantly, it demonstrated a truly imaginative way of reviving the Frankenstein story. And in a ‘reimagining’, that’s really what you need.