Mixing the supernatural and the dark, gloominess of Victorian London has always been as perfect a combination as peanut butter and chocolate, but it’s been sometime since we’ve gotten some really good fare in that regard. The thing that comes to recent mind is 2012’s The Woman in Black by Hammer Films, a studio that really perfected that good, ol’ timey horror in the 60s and 70s. And while I await the sequel, keep an eye on Hammer, and sate my fangirl desires with books, I’m longing for something more visual. Enter Showtime’s new series Penny Dreadful which debuts on May 11th.
Here’s a quick synopsis just in case you didn’t catch it:
In PENNY DREADFUL, some of literature’s most famously terrifying characters – including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and iconic figures from the novel Dracula, all brilliantly reimagined in a whole new light – have become embroiled in Victorian London. The series is a frightening psychosexual thriller created, written and executive produced by three-time Oscar® nominee John Logan (Hugo, The Aviator, Gladiator) and executive produced by Logan’s Desert Wolf Productions, along with Oscar winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) and Pippa Harris (Revolutionary Road, Call The Midwife), both of Neal Street. Of the eight episodes, the first two will be directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who helmed The Orphanage and the acclaimed film, The Impossible starring Naomi Watts in her Oscar-nominated performance.
The series stars Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down), Eva Green (Casino Royale) Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, License to Kill), Reeve Carney (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), Rory Kinnear (Skyfall), Harry Treadaway (The Lone Ranger), Billie Piper (Doctor Who,Secret Diary of a Call Girl) and Danny Sapani (The Bill).
High prostitution rates, child labor, the “criminal classes”, Jack the Ripper terrorizing London in 1888, a rise in the number of slums… It’s not hard to see why Victorian London was scary just given those details alone. If you add monsters that go bump in the night, vampires, reanimated corpses, and malevolent spirits, you’ve got the perfect conditions for one kick-ass horror show.
While I’m slightly ambivalent about Josh Hartnett because of his extended absence from anything as high profile as a Showtime series, Eva Green and Timothy Dalton are personal favorites of mine, the former simply from seeing her badass portrayal of Vesper Lynd in 2006’s Casino Royale (a film that introduced me to the amazing Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) and saw me refer to myself as Le Chiffre for far too long… I still want a silver holder for my inhaler.). Green has the uncanny ability to play cold, and seemingly indifferent ingenues, while portraying a certain vulnerability that can easily lull viewers into a trusting a character that may not be entirely trustworthy. As a sort of spiritual medium for what appears to be a motley crew, she is both guarded and open, which is acting territory Green navigates quite expertly. Will she be compromised by the darkness she has to let in on occasion? I want to find out. I must find out. Considering hiring spiritual mediums and seances were all the rage at the time, they were usually frauds trying to profit off of people’s grief. Green’s character Vanessa Ives is entirely legit, and possibly paying for it.
While the acting seems sure to be solid at the very least, the set promises to be amazing. I’m subscribed to the Penny Dreadful YouTube page and their production blogs show just how hard in the paint the crew is going when it comes to making the set look realistic and conducive to breeding some of my worst nightmares:
And quite frankly, as a Hammer film fangirl, this is right up my alley. I’m sure that at some point the show will feature a ghoul or two (or more), bringing in literary classics like Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray, adds a certain depth that is the equivalent of movie full of cameos by your favorite stars. Except a little more geeky.
I am also really curious about Sembene (Danny Sapani) and the role he plays in the show. It would appear by the scars on his face that he spent some time somewhere in Africa, so at some point he was most likely a victim of slavery. But I want to know what motivates him, and what he brings to the table, considering the supernatural would be seen differently by those within the African diaspora at the time. Will he bring a non-Christian point of view? Will he? It’s entirely possible, but either way, I can’t wait to find out.
I just hope that Penny Dreadful’s showrunners do a better job with the material than True Blood’s showrunners. If they can do that, they shouldn’t be able to mess up what is setting up to be a really good thing.