Those seeking a chill-a-minute experience from this series-long adaptation of the doomed John Franklin expedition to the 1845 Arctic will be in for a nasty surprise, but those who appreciate slow-burn suspense will think they’ve died and gone to Heaven. The show’s approach to historical fiction (adapted from the 2007 novel by Dan Simmons) is extraordinarily satisfying throughout: Combining confirmed aspects of the expedition along with Inuit oral folklore, the narrative that’s constructed manages to heighten the tension gradually by underlining the real-life complications of a years-long expedition (including food rationing, loneliness, and the ravages of the elements) as well as a posibly supernatural threat that circles the encampment. It makes the show routinely eerie and unsettling, and luckily the first-rate cast manages to convey the encroaching threat of looming death. In particular, Jared Harris makes for a formidable leading man as Captain Crozier, a flawed but generally decent leader prone to escapism who nevertheless rises to the challenges faced by the crew, and there’s tremendous support from the likes of Adam Nagaitis as Hickey and Paul Ready as Goodsir, who both show the opposite extremities of the human spirit’s ability (or lack thereof) to adapt to ever-worsening circumstances. The supernatural scenes are a bit of a letdown due to subpar special effects, but everything else works so well that one almost wishes the focus was more on the crew’s daily circumstances because that’s where the show’s strengths are.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)