Monday, 6 October 2014

Penny Dreadful, Season 1 / review by Stephen Theaker

Penny Dreadful is a new television take on an old idea: the out-of-copyright crossover. Here we have young Doctor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his monster (a marvellously melodramatic Rory Kinnear); Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), father of Mina; and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney); plus four apparently unfamiliar characters: Josh Hartnett as gunslinger Ethan Chandler; Billie Piper as Brona Croft, the dying prostitute he falls for; Danny Sapani as Murray’s fighting manservant, Sembene; and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, whose prim comportment conceals an ongoing inner battle with the forces of darkness.

The plot of this first series is driven by Murray’s attempts to rescue his daughter Mina from Dracula. The cowboy’s pistols come in handy as they root out vampire nests, and when the fighting is done Doctor Frankenstein performs autopsies on the monster’s bodies. As the series proceeds, there are complications. Dorian Gray works his seductive way through the cast. Frankenstein’s creation demands a bride. Vanessa Ives begins to lose control of her dark passenger, but without its gifts Murray would never find his daughter.

This is a well-made series that I probably wouldn’t have watched to the end were it not for Eva Green’s gob-smacking performance; in control she’s riveting, out of control terrifying. The production values are exceptional, and the special effects terrific, but there is little pay-off on the storylines, too much being held back for a second series that might never have come (though we know now that it will). The vampires are a bit too easy to kill, and seem disinclined to bite; their grand plan is a bit hopeless. Season two will need more compelling antagonists.
Brilliant moments, but not yet a brilliant programme.  ***


  1. I'm going with ****.
    I really enjoyed this first series.
    At first, I was a little put off by the introduction of so many genre characters - their introductions somewhat obvious at times. I remember saying to my wife, 'That's Victor, that's Dorian, what's next - the mummy?'
    Saying this, the shows darkness, its edgy feel, its performances and superb production values for me elevate it above other recent TV offerings.
    I loved the mystery of the first vamps hieroglyphic skin - and wanted this to continue a little more.

    I have to agree - the vamps are a little too there for the sake of it - to provide Sir Malcolm with something to get his teeth into (pardon the pun) - but the other subplots (if that's fair to call them such) for me shine equally, and sometimes slightly brighter.

    Billie Piper's Brona character - tragic, victimized, provides a glimpse of the London low life of the time. Superb accent. Her involvement with Chandler extending both of their back stories perfectly. This aside gives the show a lovely change of pace and thankfully at times intensity.

    But yes, Eva Green's performances are astonishing - the seance a real standout for me. The seductive, flirtatious encounters with Mr Gray with their lingering close - ups, essential, riveting, compared to the usual quick cuts of other shows.
    And I can't wait to see Dorian's portrait...

  2. "Superb accent." - I think you are the first person to say this! Is it an accent you know? I'm wondering if it's like Josh Hartnett doing his Keighley accent in Blow Dry, which everyone around the world thought was ludicrous, but I thought was like hearing my own voice coming from the television!

  3. I just seemed 'authentic' - obviously we'll never know for sure, considering when the show's set - but for me it just fitted perfectly for the character and the time.
    But no, not an accent I know, to be honest.