What’s it about?
Penny Dreadful is a splendidly gothic yarn based around classic horror characters in a neo-Victorian world.
Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Rory Kinnear, Billie Piper, Reeve Carney, Danny Sapani, Harry Treadaway, Helen McCrory
An Introduction to Penny Dreadful
Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) is a gun-totin’ showman – gun play is what he does for a living in front of an enthusiastic audience, until he is approached by a smartly-attired and enigmatic woman called Ms. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). How would he like to put his talents to use in a more interesting and well-paid context? Sure!
Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is the concerned father of Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn) who has been abducted by some kind of… sharp-fanged creature. Certainly not human. The sort of thing maybe Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) would be able to figure out if he saw one – although he is rather busy on something involving electricity in his laboratory.
Sir Malcolm, along with his friend and trusted ally, Sembene (Danny Sapani) share the same abode as Ms. Ives, and Mr. Chandler soon finds himself as the hired gun on a mission to rescue poor Mina. He has no idea what to expect, and no-one’s filling in the details any time soon – just be ready anyway!
You may have noticed some familiar literary names thus far, and there are more to come: flamboyant Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner) and Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif) all live in this world, as well as a wonderfully brooding character who calls himself John Clare (Rory Kinnear) – all will become apparent in time.
Firstly the name: a ‘penny dreadful’ was a nickname given to a type of trashy, cheaply produced novel in Victorian England – they cost a penny and most were gothic horror stories.
So, to ‘gothic’, the word and the genre… in this context, fantastical fiction laced with horror that takes its inspiration from English authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker (unlike, say, True Blood‘s Southern US take on gothic). A truly gothic feel is more difficult to realise than it looks, and Penny Dreadful nails it with conviction. Troubled souls find moments of happiness where they can, dwelling upon a fragile veneer of a burgeoning civilization scant on comfort. But what lies beneath that veneer?
Alongside traditional earthly horror elements, the characters in Penny Dreadful have to deal with the supernatural too. No-one gets an easy ride here! There will be… trouble, to say the least, and not everyone is necessarily safe.
While the cast of Penny Dreadful is undoubtedly strong, it’s Eva Green’s performance as the complex, conflicted Vanessa Ives that takes things to another level of intensity. To say Ms. Ives has some challenging ‘stuff’ to deal with would be an understatement, and Green’s soul-baring portrayal is spellbinding. Much praise must also go to Rory Kinnear for a beautifully poignant performance – so subtle, so heartbreaking.
Penny Dreadful was the brainchild of writer John Logan, known for his work on successful James Bond movies, Skyfall and Spectre, among other quality stories and screenplays. Many fans of Penny Dreadful have expressed sadness that they felt Logan had wrapped up the story before its time; while there certainly is a conclusion, it’s also true that the show’s fantastical characters could easily have accommodated another season. Still, enjoy what we have, and the series bears re-watching.
At first glance to some, Penny Dreadful may look like a variation on Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, owing to its use of various classic literary characters in one story. Rest assured though, that’s where any similarity ends as this show heads off in its own distinct and well-realised direction. And what a direction – Penny Dreadful is powerful, first-rate gothic horror.
Check out the Season 1 Trailer here: