Welcome to Victorian England, where fashions are fancy, people are sinful and the weather is always bleak! All of our favourite literary characters from the period are here though, so things aren’t so bad, plus, they’re getting about town in fine fashions, being very sinful and thus, making everything far more delicious than it might be if we were really in Victorian Era London.
But are we going to call Penny Dreadful Science Fiction? You may ask, before we even get started. And so I’ll answer, we could easily go either way, but at the end of the day it’s my blog and I say it’s got enough sci-fi elements to make it count. So, yes, we are.Now, let’s got on with it – PENNY DREADFUL …
Eva Green is centrepiece of the show, this is evident from moment one. I’ve been in love with her since The Dreamers and when I saw her in this, I knew she was going to be perfect for the role and damn it, she is. If I believe anyone as a trance medium in Victorian London, it is her. She’s also excellent at walking that fine line between tormented, delicate women and sinful, sexual vixen, which is important, because it is essential to the character and the show. When we first meet her character, Vanessa Ives, she is praying (weird, for a trance medium I know) and then a whole bunch of spiders explode from behind the crucifix on the wall and suddenly it becomes apparent that there’s going to be more to this woman than meets the eye (excellent, cause I was getting worried that she might not actually be as evil as the trailer suggests her to be).
Josh Hartnett appears not long after the incident with the spiders, and he is wearing some very fetching old-timey stage make-up and participating in some kind of wonderful old-timey wild west show (yep, he’s going to be the token American character, who will illustrate in most of his personal interactions, the friction that exists between Victorian social classes and American frontier gents).His name is Ethan Chandler (very American). He’s going to be the muscle.
I’m not afraid to say that I wasn’t much of a Hartnett fan in the 90’s, when he first showed up in films like Halloween H20 and The Faculty, or even in more serious roles like Black Dahlia, but now that he’s been out of the spotlight for 15 years or so, I am able to confess that I’ve really gotten on board with him. I don’t know what it is, maybe maturity, be he just plays this role so well. He’s dark, brooding and mysterious, but also soft hearted. He does it very well. Clearly he is going to play in integral role in Vanessa’s life.
Finally, Timothy Dalton shows up as the elderly gent and benefactor of the piece, Sir Malcolm Murray. His character is some kind of intrepid explorer, now hunting for his daughter, Mina (yes that Mina), who has been abducted by a vampire (yes, presumably that vampire). I’ve never been a Dalton fan, but you know, I didn’t hate him in this. Age has made him a far more appealing actor, as has the fact that he is not trying to be any kind of sex symbol. I never could accept him as James Bond, but he seems to suit this role far better and I feel like he will grow on me over the course of the season.He’s going to be a complete bastard though, and I suspect that he and Vanessa Ives are really more frenemies than anything else. That should make things interesting, considering she seems to be reliant on him for a great many things.
This leads me to another point – which is that I don’t think that this was ever going to be one of those shows where you actually end up liking any of the characters. The writers try pretty hard from minute one to ensure that there is a very clear message coming across, which is: this is not a happy place, these will not be happy stories, these characters are not going to be nice people.
In retrospect, the thing with the characters is one of the things I love/hate about Penny Dreadful. I wanted there to be one soft, cuddly character among the core group, but alas, there are none. There were moments when I contemplated not pushing on with the series, but I did and in the end, I came around the what was going on with everyone and why there is really no other way that this concept can work. I also appreciated that there were moments (the end of episode 4 being a prime example), where I sat up and went wait… what? What the fuck is going on here?
But lets stick with the pilot…
In the pilot we find this mismatched bunch of characters roaming around the night-time streets of London, looking for vampires (without really knowing that it’s vampires they’re looking for) and getting into a serious kill-a-thon with a coven of said vampires – but not the particular coven that they don’t know they’re looking for. From that, they go in search of a doctor to perform an autopsy – which is where we meet Dr. Frankenstein. He’s the last key player we meet in episode one and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting him to be portrayed like this. In most variations of the Frankenstein story, he is somewhat older, but here he’s more a sickly, young dandy. It’s fresh. It works. I know I’m going to hate him.
Penny Dreadful is one of those rare shows that managed to turn my stomach pretty much from moment one in the pilot episode. It wasn’t a strong sense of nausea, but I didn’t like eating dinner when watching it. That’s pretty impressive considering the affection I have for the gothic/horror genre.
Blood and guts aside, I do love men in hats and gloves and scarves – with pistols on their belts and finely groomed facial hair. Even if the scripts were shit, that alone would still makes this a winner.