You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: Jared Harris in ‘The Terror’ on AMC

Jared Harris, Ciaran Hinds, Tobias Menzies, Ian Hart, Paul Ready, Adam Nagaitis, Nive Nielsen.

The Terror,” a handsome and well-acted period drama about polar explorers, is fine as far as it goes. But be forewarned: It does not go very far.

Don’t let the Royal Navy uniforms fool you: This is a fairly stationary tale. There is a spirit of nautical adventure in the air in the first episode, which, like most of the series, takes place during the 1840s. At the start of “The Terror,” which is based loosely on real events, two ships filled with energetic British officers and sailors head far north, in search of a Northwest Passage to China. But it’s not long before their ships become trapped in Arctic ice, and there they stay for a good deal of the series. Like the ships themselves, the storytelling gets stuck on a regular basis — and some may find it moves too deliberately.

There are some adventures away from the ships, as various parties set off to hunt and to explore whether the ice is breaking up elsewhere in this treacherous and forbidding realm. But much of the drama of “The Terror” remains centered on two ships — HMS Terror and HMS Erebus — which are pinned down by the ice as months turn into years. The tight grasp of the frozen sea threatens the structural integrity of both vessels, and there are only small windows of opportunity for rescues — or for members of the crew to abandon ship and take their chances on a trek to remote outposts hundreds of miles away.

“The Terror,” which hails from executive producer Ridley Scott, looks terrific; it establishes and builds on its moody sense of Arctic isolation, and the stark beauty on display is something to behold (amid all the worries and dangers, the Northern Lights are gorgeous). The close quarters of the ship are skillfully contrasted with the wide open landscape, a monochromatic space dotted with raised chunks of ice that look like modernist sculptures.

There are moments of real beauty, as when a brave man dons a cumbersome diving suit — one of the “high-tech” items the ships officers are quite proud of. There’s a poetic elegance, and dash of understandable fear, in that sequence as the sailor goes beneath the water to remove ice from a jammed propeller. And when the show’s repressed characters lash out at each other or argue about which priorities matter most, the fine cast brings those moments to vivid life.

“The Terror” gives Jared Harris a much-deserved starring role, after excellent stints on quality dramas like “Mad Men” and “The Crown.” He is wonderful as the watchful Francis Crozier, a captain whose dashed romantic hopes have left him only the long voyage north.

The overall commander of the mission, and the captain of HMS Erebus, is Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds), a bluff and cheerful veteran of the Navy whose Victorian optimism verges on reckless naivete. Hinds is such a master of roles like these that he has no trouble finding the human being behind Franklin’s pious, ambitious facade. As events begin to go wrong, and then very wrong indeed, Franklin’s positive spirit is one of the main factors keeping the men from descending into frozen despair, and he clearly takes that responsibility seriously. And Tobias Menzies (“Outlander”) who brings considered and soulful precision to every performance, is excellent as John Fitzjames, who starts out as a boastful, vain officer with a lovely coiffure, but begins to lose his composure as his personal appearance also begins to slide downhill.

Ciarán Hinds as John Franklin, Tobias Menzies as James Fitzjames - The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Screengrab/AMC

It’s actually strange how sane and even-keeled most of the men remain, even as their ships begin to tilt and groan weirdly as the unrelenting ice tightens its grip. After years of cold weather, death and short rations, they don’t lose as much of their composure as most of us would after two days without central heat or smartphones. Still, that stiff upper lip mentality — which begins to develop cracks as the endless winter marches on — works against the AMC drama at times.

“The Terror’s” biggest problem is that it apparently wants to be a taut, atmospheric chamber piece in which the psychological pressures on a set of stranded men lead them to pursue ever more desperate and unpredictable actions. But there’s too much slackness in the narrative for “The Terror’s” core dilemmas — or people — to become truly enthralling. Though it depicts extreme conditions, “The Terror” is a little on the tepid side emotionally. The core relationships aren’t deepened in surprising or rich ways, and a series of flashbacks intended to flesh out the officers’ motivations seem a bit superfluous.

By the midpoint of the season, the officers and sailors of the ships have come into contact several times with Indigenous people, and Nive Nielsen is impressive as a local woman who rightly regards the ships’ crews with wariness. A few know her language, and an earnest medical aide takes the time to learn it as well, but cultural barriers — not to mention imperialist condescension — keep her and the Navy men from establishing a deep or substantial bond.

Perhaps that relationship, and the spiritual implications of some of the strange occurrences that affect both ships, are developed more adroitly in the second half of the season, but 10 episodes seems like too many for this tale. Still, though its pacing is not all it could be, “The Terror” gives Harris a chance to develop a portrait of Crozier not as a resentful drunkard — which is the view of Fitzjames and some other officers — but as a realistic man up against forces that he cannot predict. If he begins to drink too much in this endless white space, can anyone really blame him?

At least he doesn’t display the heedless, often arrogant can-do spirit that was so prevalent among Western explorers in the 19th Century. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the ships are merely the playthings of Nature, who has her own agenda, one that cares nothing for those who would “conquer” her.

TV Review: Jared Harris in 'The Terror' on AMC

Drama; 10 episodes (5 reviewed); AMC, 9 p.m. Mon. March 26. 60 min.

Crew: Executive producers, David Kajganich, Ridley Scott, Soo Hugh, David W. Zucker, Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert, Guymon Casady.

Cast: Jared Harris, Ciaran Hinds, Tobias Menzies, Ian Hart, Paul Ready, Adam Nagaitis, Nive Nielsen.

More TV

  • 'Super Shiro' Anime Series Inspired by

    'Super Shiro' Anime Series Inspired by 'Crayon Shin-chan'

    The enduringly popular Japanese cartoon franchise “Crayon Shin-chan” has inspired a new animated TV series, “Super Shiro.” “Crayon Shin-chan” has been on air since 1992 and inspired 26 feature films. “Super Shiro” is a fast-paced chase series, for kids, based on original IP by Yoshito Usui and scripted by on Kimiko Ueno.  The series is [...]

  • Us Television Writers and Producers Maria

    Mad Men’s’ Andre, Maria Jacquemetton Set for Series Mania’s UGC Writers Campus

    MADRID — André and Maria Jacquemetton, the Emmy and WGA Award-winning writer-producers of AMC’s “Mad Men” and consulting producers on Amazon Studios’ “The Romanoffs,” will serve as Guests of Honor at Series Mania’s UGC Writers Campus, a workshop whose participants include Denmark’s Christina Miller-Harris and Israel’s Noy Carmel. The Jacquemettons will deliver a masterclass and [...]

  • China Plans Remake of BBC Time-Travel

    China Plans Remake of BBC Time-Travel Cop Show ‘Life on Mars’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    A Chinese “Life on Mars” is in the works after BBC Studios and Phoenix Entertainment inked a deal to create a Mandarin-language version of the time-travel cop series. BBC Studios will officially unveil the format deal at Showcase, its annual programming market for international buyers, which is now underway in Liverpool, England. “Life on Mars” [...]

  • DF-10193 – L-R: Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor),

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Leads MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed up love from Cinema Audio Society sound mixers with a pair of honors at the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Sunday night. The musical biopic scored wins for dialogue and ADR as well as sound editing in a musical. The film is nominated for sound editing at the Oscars [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” The major television trophies went to “The Americans,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Homeland” and “Barry” for the [...]

  • 50 Cent Power

    NYPD Officer Under Investigation for Allegedly Telling Police to Shoot 50 Cent 'on Sight'

    A New York City precinct commander is under investigation for allegedly telling officers to shoot rapper 50 Cent on sight, a police rep confirmed to Variety on Sunday. “The matter is under internal review,” an NYPD rep said, declining to answer further questions. Deputy Inspector Emanuel Gonzalez is accused of telling officers during a June 7 roll [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content