If you prefer your historical genre TV without the melodrama and over the top caricature of Jekyll and Hyde, then ITV Encore’s new show may well be for you. The satellite channel’s first foray into original genre production – or at least the first broadcast on the channel (Midwinter of the Spirit was destined for there originally) – takes its time to get going, establishing its very Dickensian backdrop, but Sean Bean’s performance as John Marlott and the little pieces of the puzzle that are slowly dripfed throughout the episode will keep you engrossed.
Yes, to an extent it uses every cliché in the book to set the scene – mudlarks by the river, a Bill Sikes–type figure who has total control over a gang of children, braying noises in the House of Commons, a policeman who’s lost everything but somehow keeps going – but beneath it all, there’s a proper feel of a mystery being investigated, as Bean’s dogged river policeman pushes for answers. As Bean has amply demonstrated across his career, he can add subtext to a scene simply by the way in which he glances around a room, and certainly this first part, which relies heavily on his performance, would have lost its resonance with someone less experienced in the role.
There’s a strong cast around Bean – Sam West stays in period after Jonathan Strange as the chief pathologist, and we’ve got Steven Berkoff to look forward to as William Blake next week. The horror is more in what we imagine than coming from a creature with a bolt through its neck wandering around the place – and the series is much the better for it.
Verdict: An atmospheric opening for an intriguing series. 8/10