It’s very rare that I review a television series, but after watching the first series of AMC’s The Terror (currently available in the UK on BBC iPlayer but released in the US in 2018) I was compelled to write something.
Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by American author Dan Simmons, which fictionalised the real life lost Franklin Expedition that departed in 1845, The Terror is a chilling thriller that will stay with you long after the final credits of the last episode stop rolling.
The Franklin Expedition, led by Captain Sir John Franklin, compromised two British Royal Navy ships – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – and around 120 crew members. The expedition set sail from the UK in May 1845 with the intention of discovering a navigable route through the Arctic. Three years later and the ships were both abandoned after being icebound for over a year, their goal sadly never achieved.
AMC’s horror adaptation is an intelligent take that builds up gradually from mild uneasiness to vivid, uncomfortable scenes that leave you searching for answers online.
With an all-star line up of British actors, fantastic set design and authentic costumes and props, the Franklin Expedition is brought back to life in a sympathetic way. Staying faithful to Simmons’s novel there’s also an added element of mythological danger that the crew must contend with in addition to hunger, scurvy and mutiny.
Ciarán Hinds portrays Sir John with Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies starring as Captain Francis Crozier (Commanding Officer, HMS Terror, and expedition second-in-command) and Commander James Fitzjames (Executive Officer, HMS Erebus) respectively while the supporting cast reads like a ‘who’s who’ of British television.
Neve Nielsen shines as the mysterious Lady Silence, an Inuit woman (referred in the TV series and novel as ‘Esquimaux’) who knows what stalks the crew while relative newcomer Adam Nagaitis stars as Caulker’s Mate Cornelius Hickey with a screen presence that matches – and indeed at times shadows – his more experienced colleagues.
As the tension builds over the 10 episodes you expect things to go from bad to worse for the ill-fated crew, but it still grips you, akin to the strangling hold that the sheet ice built up around the stranded HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
There are haunting moments from each episode delivered not only by the strong performances the cast deliver but by the scenery, filming techniques and effects; aerial shots that zoom out from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror perfectly capture the dire, desperate situation that the ships and their crews found themselves in.
My only fault with the series is that it can be difficult to hear every word the cast delivers – I turned the subtitles on now and again – and it was also tricky remembering who was when you hear comments directed at ‘Mr Manson’, ‘Mr Collins’ or ‘Lieutenant Little’. It is only towards the end of the series that you truly understand and appreciate the motivations of the key cast members.
With that in mind, and now knowing the ending as well as the historical background of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror from hours of online searching (spoiler: the ships were discovered in 2014 and 2016 respectively and are co-managed by Parks Canada and the Inuit peoples), I may watch the series again, picking up on subtle elements that on a re-watch will have more significant meanings.
While series two covered a different theme, there is much to enjoy about series one of The Terror. If you are a fan of historical pieces or horror, you would be hard pressed to find a more evocative and sad tale of isolation on the ice.