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It is 1848, and two British Royal Naval ships are lost in the ice-cold waters of the Northwest Passage. They had left England three years earlier to search for the route over North America to the Pacific Ocean. Now frozen, isolated and stuck at the end of the earth, the crew, desperate to survive, struggle not only with the elements, but with each other.
The Terror shocked and surprised viewers and critics alike when it was first broadcast in 2018, and now you can enjoy it all over again as the chilling first season is airing on BBC Two this spring.
The 10-part series, executive produced by Alien director Ridley Scott and originally exclusively shown on AMC with BT TV in the UK, takes terrifying real-life events and adds elements of the supernatural to create unmissable TV.
Starring Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies and boasting a superb ensemble cast, The Terror is sure to chill you to the bone.
What is The Terror about?
Inspired by a true story and based on Dan Simmons’ novel of the same name, The Terror centres on the British Royal Navy’s perilous voyage into unchartered territory as the crew attempts to discover the Northwest Passage.
Sought by explorers since the late 15th century, the Northwest Passage was a hypothetical sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans over the top of North America and down the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. European powers imagined its discovery would offer a faster and potentially safer trade route between Europe and Asia, avoiding both the long land journey and the treacherous voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.
But the pack ice of the Northwest Passage proved to be no less hazardous than the wild seas of the Southern Ocean. Faced with sub-zero conditions, limited resources, dwindling hope and fear of the unknown, the crews of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are pushed to the brink – and no one is coming to save them.
The fate of the real expedition, which set sail in 1845 and led to more than 120 crew members inexplicably disappearing, has warranted a great deal of speculation. After almost 175 years of searching, coincidentally, the ships were discovered by arctic research groups in 2014 and 2016.
Who’s in the cast of The Terror?
The Terror stars Jared Harris (Chernobyl, Mad Men), above, as Captain Francis Crozier, captain of HMS Terror and second in command of the expedition.
Tobias Menzies (The Night Manager, The Crown) plays his second-in-command Captain James Fitzjames, a rising star in the British Royal Navy who has little respect for his captain but a cupboard full of skeletons.
The expedition’s leader is Captain John Franklin, played by Ciaran Hinds (Rome, Game of Thrones). A man "everyone likes, but no one respects”, Franklin is nearing the end of a blemished career in the Navy and wants to retire in glory as the man who found the Northwest Passage.
Paul Ready (Motherland, Bodyguard) plays Dr Harry Goodsir, the ship’s junior doctor who is the first to realise something supernatural is in play alongside the physical and mental challenges faced by the crew. He sets about trying to understand the forces working to destroy the men.
The series also features Adam Nagaitis as Cornelius Hickey, Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence and Ian Hart as Thomas Blanky.
Where was The Terror filmed?
Thankfully, neither cast nor crew had to travel to the real Northwest Passage to film The Terror. Most of the action was recorded on a soundstage in Budapest, Hungary, with digital effects added to create the vistas of the North Atlantic. These effects were based on the same technology that executive producer Ridley Scott had used for his 2015 movie The Martian, which was filmed on the same Budapest set.
A few external scenes were filmed on the Croatian island of Pag, not that the cast enjoyed Mediterranean temperatures during filming.
“It’s a summer destination, so there were a whole different set of challenges at that point,” Jared Harris told IndieWire.
“There were also 200 mile-an-hour winds. We watched our sets blow away. ‘Oh, there goes my tent. Oh, that’s tomorrow’s set blowing away.'”
The extremes of the Hungarian climate were also challenging.
“Winter in Budapest is freezing,” Harris added. “They managed to save themselves a lot of money in the beginning because they were going to refrigerate the sets so that we [could see] all that breath, but yeah, they didn’t need to do that. It’s cold enough.” In fact, by leaving the doors of the soundstage open, the crew reduced the temperate on set to an Arctic -15 degrees.
It was a different story towards the end of the six-month shoot.
“By then we were also shooting with furs and wool outfits in at least 60-degree temperatures,” Harris said.
What the critics said
Praise for the first two episodes of The Terror was universal. Here’s what the reviewers thought:
The meticulous etching of characters and their complicated dynamics, the dissemination of dread, the vivid sense of prolonged isolation, all provide the foundations for what promises to be an escalating nightmare of disease, starvation and rampaging monster carnage.
A tip of the sailor's hat to director Edward Berger, who gave the premiere a welcome cinematic quality. Berger's camera revels in the scenery, as the ships break through the ice into a new frontier. Aerial shots turn Erebus and Terror into little pins in the icy expanse. These sights complement this tale of doom well and elevate the episode to something we've not quite seen on horror TV before.
With its realistically dull candle and torch-lit photography, interpersonal bickering and dramas among the crew, The Terror promises an epic tale of mental and physical hardship and supernatural horror; the real and the fantastical coming together in nightmarish circumstances.
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.
When can I watch The Terror?
The first two episodes of 10-part first season of The Terror are on BBC2 from 9pm on Wednesday March 3, and on BBC iPlayer afterwards.