Modern TV shows, they have to begin with a bang these days. Well, to be fair, old ones did too, yet new ones tend to come with an A-list cast of actors, as well as an acclaimed director and screenwriter.
Penny Dreadful is no exception. The man who put pen to paper, John Logan, is the wordsmith behind this one – in case you didn’t know, a look back through his impressive filmography shows he’s given us Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall and many more. Quite a talent. And, if we’re mentioning Bond it won’t escape many of you that this show has two alumni: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives – both inspired bits of casting.
Ever since Hot Fuzz in 2007 Dalton appears to have had a new lease of life and looks to be having an immense amount of fun with each project he now takes on (perhaps the most since his Bond days). As well as a wry smile and a wink he also brings a good dollop of gravitas and sincerity to the part. With only the opening episode to go on it’s fair to say he put in a compelling performance as a man on a quest in the darkest parts of London.
And then there’s Eva Green as Vanessa Ives. Green has spent most of her career playing sultry, sensual, seductive parts. She also suits the occult quite well (she’s been a witch twice), so Ives was a natural fit. There’s intrigue there too, why is she beholden to Sir Malcolm? What debt does she owe him? Where do her witchy powers come from? Or are they religious ones? We see her twice in the episode praying to a crucifix. We also have an actor (Josh Hartnett) who, much like his character jaded gunslinger Ethan Chandler, has lost the love for his profession, having been pretty quiet since 30 Days of Night in 2007. The story is told largely from his character’s point of view, introducing us to the worlds between worlds.
Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein makes up the rest of the team. Young, articulate, creepy and intense. Treadaway’s performance was, for me, unexpected but eminently watchable, often stealing scenes from the likes of Dalton (no mean feat) and then rounding off the episode with a beautifully monstrous yet touchingly tender scene.
Despite having seen umpteen vampire shows in the last few years, this has a different tone and feels fresh, with the focus on the human characters rather than the supernatural ones (bear in mind it’s not just vampires but they feature in the first episode). It’s also beautifully shot.
Some credit has to go to Juan Antonia Bayona, director behind The Orphanage and, quite recently, The Impossible for the way he’s portrayed Victorian London. Without knowing the budget for the show he’s given it an expensive look and feel and the sets are thoughtfully designed with nice detail.
So, a promising start. All the pieces are in place and the first episode was sufficiently gripping and well paced. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.