THE TERROR | WE’VE BEEN WATCHING
It’s taken a few years to get this AMC-created show finally on a main UK channel. Finally, during our own lockdown, can we witness the sublime survival-horror depicting Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition to reveal the North West Passage. Also loosely based on the 2007 novel by Dan Simmons, also titled The Terror, we don’t necessarily lose all elements of factual accuracy (much is still left unknown about the journey), though fantasy is a key player. Many liberties are taken, though not at the detriment of gravity.
In what might be one of the finest television shows for some time, The Terror is a phenomenal experience. Its slow burn keeps you just on the right side of intrigue, with enough to satisfy horror and history nerds alike. A large ensemble of actors also work well in their roles, tailored to their personas. The exquisite soundtrack by the late Marcus Fjellström, to whom the series is dedicated, offers the perfect ambience to the eerie locations, and music I never expected to hear in a period drama.
Highlights abound. The scene where the HMS Erebus’ Captain Sir John Franklin (played by a brilliant Ciarán Hinds) gets ambushed by the unknown beast is so finely made, students of film should study it. The moment also carries a lot of weight, as it dawns on the crew that their captain is gone. Captain Francis Crozier, who followed on HMS Terror, has to find his bearings as he begins to take control of the journey: both ships have struck ice, leaving them stranded. Commander James Fitzjames also attempts to handle things his way, knowing his worth in the role, albeit with doubts popping up later on.
The story gradually becomes about Crozier, the Irish captain who never really got a big break, always in the shadow of his English competitors. Jared Harris, who plays Crozier, is the backbone of the show, starting off as a dissident to the whole thing yet becoming a potential saviour to those left behind. Tobias Menzies as James is also sympathetic, good with his men and a valiant spirt until the end.
In supporting roles, the snide Cornelius Hickey is played by Adam Nagaitis; Nive Nielsen is Lady Silence, the stoic Netsilik woman who endures the British throughout; and perhaps the most sympathetic character is Surgeon Harry Goodsir, played by a wistful Paul Ready. Greta Scacchi, as Lady Jane Franklin, is the perhaps most naïve about her husband’s fate, her attempts to muster a rescue party back home convincing if ill-fated.
There are several vivid moments in the finale that really stick out as well: things to be savoured. A fine thing to behold – just don’t expect to be uplifted.
words JAMES ELLIS photos AIDAN MONAGHAN