The next drama to debut on BT TV is The Terror, a new series from Ridley Scott and AMC. Based on Dan Simmons’ novel of the same name, the series tells a fictionalised account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost 1845 Royal Navy expedition to the Artic which, Simmons suggests, encounters a local supernatural force.
Despite the expedition being led by some of the period’s most famous names, few modern day Brits know of it or of its fate, a state of affairs one of the show’s leading men puts down to the Navy’s “embarrassment”.
“Surprisingly it’s not that well known in the UK, it’s much more well known in Canada where it’s sometimes taught at school and obviously it happened in their territory,” actor Tobias Menzies told SEENIT.
“I can’t help wondering if part of the reason it isn’t as well known here as that the Navy worked quite hard to suppress the story. It was quite an embarrassment to them.”
Menzies plays Commander James Fitzjames, the more junior of the expedition’s three commanding officers, alongside series lead Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier and Ciarán Hinds as expedition leader, Sir John Franklin.
While the drama has a supernatural element which ramps up as the series progresses, at it’s heart is the relationship between the three men and their competing views on how the expedition and its two ships – the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – should be led.
Describing the dynamic between the three, Harris says: “Tobias’s character sees Ciarán’s as a father figure and benefactor and a patron and he also buys into the idea that Franklin has which is that the British are meant to rule the world and God smiles kindly upon the British and won’t let anything bad happen to the British – to the English specifically – because they’re special in some way.
“Crozier may have when he was younger bought into it but by this time he’s become embittered because he understands that, although he’s British, he’s not English and that will always be held against him and stop him advancing. He’s started to separate from that idea.”
Hinds adds that Fitzjames “at the beginning of the story finds Crozier to be quite an unbearable person, just because he’s so dour and gloomy and an alcoholic and he’s not ‘stiff upper lip British’” while “Franklin recognises that he’s a great sailor but still believes in his own power of command. Also, he has a natural fondness for Fitzjames who he believes is a very good leader and will continue to develop, and they have a father and son-like relationship.”
“The relationship with Franklin and Crozier, it’s not quite father and son because of their age but it’s like trying to be friends with someone who you believe has great talent but you know inherently you’re completely poles apart, but at the same time he recognises the benefit of having Crozier on the team.”
However, highlighting a weakness in his character, Hinds adds that “Franklin can’t see that he’s not only useful, he should be leading the expedition.”
The uneasy relationship between the three commanders shapes their fates and those of the crews as the expedition strays into misadventure and finds itself stranded in the ice, prompting fierce debate about the right way forward.
“What’s also being articulated in those moments is to what extent you subscribe to the function of ‘chain of command’,” says Menzies.
“I think Fitzjames has a very clear idea that he is third and to some extent effectively his job is to support Franklin not to question, whereas Crozier has a different idea of that and, because of his experience, is duty bound to articulate what he sees as Franklin’s blindness.”
While the ship-based nature of the show’s opening episodes gives it a “very contained and quite curated and framed” feel, Menzies says “once they abandon ship it becomes much more peculiar and really does open up into something much larger.”
All three leads have praised showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh for their handling of the show’s supernatural element, with Harris saying they showed “fantastic restraint” in how they handled its inclusion in the plot.
“One of the first questions that I asked David and Soo was ‘this doesn’t just descend into becoming a monster story where we’re running and screaming from the monster’?”
Instead he says the drama serves up “an examination of a world, these people, these characters who bring Britain into the Artic and then slowly every conception about themselves gets ripped away until they’re left with an essential question about themselves.”
Menzies said: “I really like the way it’s quite a patient, confident piece of story telling – they really don’t show it for a long time and when they do it’s very fleetingly and keeping it back makes the show more psychological and less gory horror.”
As well as the attractions of the script, Harris said he enjoyed working on the show because it allowed him to work alongside Hinds and Menzies who both appeared in HBO’s Rome, which he describes as “just one of the best TV shows” made.
“I am obsessed with Rome. I’ve seen it many times,” he told SEENIT, before revealing that he “totally fanboyed both Cairan and Tobias when I first met them and irritated them asking question like ‘in that scene how did you do…’”
“He was a fan boy,” confirms Hinds who said it was “lovely” to be repeatedly told “Rome was great, Rome was great” by his co-star.
Without revealing any spoilers, The Terror is a self-contained story which comes to a complete and natural end.
“There’s no second season of this particular version,” says Harris. “If there is a second season it’s a completely different cast, completely different story, completely different time period.”
He says that knowing the story had to be told in a single season allowed the showrunners to “fully explore all aspects of these characters over the ten episodes and they don’t have to hold anything back for a second or third season.
“They can really get into the nitty gritty of it.”
The Terror gets its UK TV series premiere on Tuesday 24th April at 21:00 on AMC which is exclusive to BT TV and BT Sport subscribers on Sky.