Penny Dreadful

Well it’s that time of year again, so I thought I’d write something in theme. This Halloween I decided to write about a spooky series, I recently got hooked on. Admittedly, this isn’t my genre of choice as I tend to steer clear of the horror genre as much as I possibly can. Furthermore, I tend to avoid series which cash in on the recent vampire / werewolf and other mythical creature fascination. However, it needs to be said that this is one such series with a difference. Recently there seems to be no shortage of series, movies or books of this genre, but I decided to watch this one in particular for its cast and concept and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Not much has been said about this Showtime series and I can’t quite understand why. It’s a joy to watch for any literature aficionado as it presents viewers with many characters we are already familiar with from 19th century Gothic fiction. I will avoid mentioning which actors interpret which roles as the guessing game was quite fun for me. The title of the series, refers to a 19th century British paperback publication of the same name costing only a penny (hence the name). The publication specialised in serial, sensationalist and fictional stories published over a number of weeks and some featured fantastical characters we are still familiar with nowadays. The demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, for instance, made his first appearance in these publications. This reference should give you a general idea of what to expect from the series.

The story is set in dark 19th century London and all characters have an air of mystery and often times of the supernatural about them. As I have already mentioned, viewers encounter various familiar faces on the streets of London and name-dropping of other famous characters often occurs. The characters which are referred to can be both fictitious and real, and they help to set the somewhat gothic and gory scene. For instance, early on in the series, some characters begin to mention the possibility of a reappearance of the infamous Jack the Ripper, the beastly killer who pervasively imbued the Victorian psyche with terror.

We are initially led into this dark world with the help of an ordinary human being (or should I say seemingly ordinary?) Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), is an outsider both because of his nationality and also because of his ordinariness. The character acts a bit like a touchstone to audiences and is quite a comfort to viewers who would be excused for feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the supernatural elements of the series. Each character is strong in his or her own right and one character, in particular, deserves honourable mention in this case. In a slew of well-known characters, supported by a whole body of literature, Vanessa Ives interpreted by Eva Green, manages to hold her own in a convincing manner, despite the fact that she was created specifically for the series. This character is, in fact, so strong that I found myself wondering whether she was a pre-existing character I had missed.

The series makes extensive use of flashbacks which cement character development in the viewers’ minds, and show them the motivation behind their actions. There are, however, a few characters whose life story we know close to nothing about, but who still remain as captivating and enticing as the others; perhaps purely because of the air of mystery that surrounds them. But that, I suspect will be explored in the next season, which will be aired sometime next year.

The series boasts some exceptional acting chops and the storyline is very creative and addictive (not to mention the rather unforgettable eye-candy!) A word of caution, however. Since it is a revival of the gothic genre, there are inevitably quite a few creepy and gory scenes, as well as some outright unexpected frights, making it absolutely perfect for a night of spooks and chills. Happy Halloween and happy viewing!