The Doll Factory
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Macneal, Paramount+’s The Doll Factory is a Victorian romance with a spattering of the macabre and gothic woven throughout. The plot follows aspiring artist Iris Whittle (Esme-Creed Miles), who catches the eye of two creatives who operate within London’s seedy underbelly. One of her would-be suitors is Silas Reed (a wonderful Éanna Hardwicke), a taxidermist trying to become noticed within the art world who’s earned the nickname Cadaver from his peers. The other is established painter Louis Frost (George Webster), who’s implied to be involved in unsavoury deeds at his studio that’s ominously named The Factory.
This six-part series gets off to an uneventful start. The first episode is designed to introduce viewers to the key players. It’s in these opening scenes where Miles shines through as the plucky lead and cements herself as instantly likeable. Likewise, Hardwicke’s strong performance makes Silas one of the creepiest characters to appear on the small screen in recent years, whereas Webster walks a fine line between pompously brutish and traditionally charming as Frost. Much of this episode, however, is tediously derivative of its genre, with one scene reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet in which Iris and Silas’s eyes meet across an exhibit causing more eye-rolls than romantic intrigue. However, shrill screams coming from somewhere inside Frost’s Factory at the end of the episode begin to get the ball rolling for the rest of the series.
By the second instalment, there’s a sudden vivid vision of bloody revenge, a gruesome amputation scene and a collection of morbid imagery, which feeds into the series’ gothic undertones. All these details, combined with ghoulish cliffhangers at the end of each episode, create an unsettling atmosphere that lurks in the darkened corners of dingy pubs and brothels alongside the coldly lit city streets. By gradually drip-feeding viewers sinister details throughout, the slow-burn approach has the miniseries heading towards what’s shaping up to be a twisted conclusion by the time the credits roll at the show’s midway point.
While Miles, Hardwicke and Webster each give fabulous turns in the lead roles, it’s the slow-burn atmosphere that proves to be the real star of this creepy gothic romance.
The Doll Factory is released on Paramount+ on 1st December 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Doll Factory here: