I share my thoughts on the first season of Penny Dreadful, a gothic horror eight-episode Showtime series created by John Logan, and starring Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, Harry Treadaway & Reeve Carney.
Penny Dreadful has possibly one of the strongest ideas for a television show yet. Take several characters from Victorian literature, be they obscure or not, and interweave their stories with a great gothic horror approach that features the likes of Malcolm Murray, Dorian Grey and even Victor Frankenstein, brought to life in all their glory. Give a high budget to the series and put it on a network like Showtime, cast A-Listers like Timothy Dalton and Eva Green, and you’re onto a winner. Indeed, Penny Dreadful for me has turned out to be the best series of 2014 so far, beating even the awesomeness that was True Detective.
The show itself is complex and sprawling and covers a lot over its eight episode running time, of which they are each an hour long. We get to explore a variety of characters in this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque fashion that handles the concept far better than the movie. The first episode kicks things off by introducing us to an American, Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) – who is recruited by Eva Green’s enigmatic Vanessa Ives to help Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) find his youngest Daughter, Mina – who has been kidnapped by vampires. This quest takes up the main focus of Season 1, but also allows time to delve into various subplots such as Ethan’s troubled past and of course, the creature of Frankenstein’s creature.
The show itself delivers one twist after the next, and whilst some may be predictable it’s done in a way that will keep you entertained throughout the entirety of its runtime. It utilises a variety of horror concepts including the likes of demonic possession, but it’s handled very well by creator John Logan. Whilst it may not be straightforward action like the gunfight against vampires in the pilot, Penny Dreadful delivers a fresh feel each time around as it goes from strength to strength.
Penny Dreadful is not for the faint of heart. As well as being extremely gory and to a certain extent, scary – it manages to make possession scary again thanks to an excellent performance from Eva Green, who puts in one of the strongest of her career. Timothy Dalton also shines as Malcolm Murray, and Josh Hartnett delivers a better than expected performance as Ethan Chandler. Billie Piper’s Irish accent may not always sound convincing as prostitute Brona Croft – a love interest for Ethan – but she delivers an impressive take on the character. Harry Treadaway plays the young Victor Frankenstein with a very well with an impressive delivery and Reeve Carney handles his role well as the mysterious Dorian Grey strongly. It’s a great mix of talent and John Logan works to make sure that they all deliver some of their best performances, with chemistry between the various actors being great indeed.
The show’s episodes maintain a strong quality and there isn’t anything here that I didn’t enjoy. Episode 5 is perhaps the highlight, entitled Closer than Sisters – which explores the events that lead to Mina’s disappearance and is a fantastic example of how to do an entire-episode flashback sequence. It is a real masterpiece and one of the finest episodes of television that I’ve seen this year.
Are there problems? Very few. The finale is wrapped up a little too neatly and the sex, violence and gore may be to excessive for some. However, with plenty of direction to go for Season 2, Penny Dreadful is one of the strongest shows that you’ll see this year and even though it may only be eight episodes it’s something that every horror fan should watch. Essential viewing.