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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

‘Penny Dreadful’ is a Bloody Good Time

The cast of Penny Dreadful {Image Credit: Jim Fiscus/Showtime}

In these past few months, a new trend on the small screen has seen well known filmmakers turning to major networks to share quality stories with audiences. With networks easing the transition and helping blur the lines of film with television, a lot of shows on prominent networks like HBO and Showtime are seeing shorter seasons that lure major stars. The latest to breath life on the boob tube comes care of Showtime, with their new Gothic horror series titled Penny Dreadful. From acclaimed screenwriter, John Logan (Skyfall, Gladiator) and Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) as executive producer, comes a supernatural and paranormal series in the guise of an archaic Victorian era London; full of phenomenon that will surely leave your spine tingling and have you think twice upon hearing all that goes ‘bump in the night’.

In the pilot “Night Work” which premieres this Sunday, May 11; the residents of 1891 London are on edge after a woman and her daughter are gruesomely murdered, stirring rumors and speculation that Jack the Ripper has returned and is responsible. However, a strangely enchanting woman by the name of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) believes there is more at play. Vanessa,  a clairvoyant and expert medium, recruits an American sharp-shooter named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) to help her get to the bottom of things. Partnered up with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), a hardened African explorer on a personal quest to find his daughter Mina, Vanessa leads the two of them into the catacombs of London, only to discover a den of horrors and a supernatural truth lying beneath the bowels of the city. After a bloody confrontation, Sir Malcolm, Vanessa and Ethan wind up with a strange body and enlist the help of a mysterious doctor (Harry Treadaway). Noticed by Sir Malcolm, the young doctor is unafraid to explore the dead, easily slicing open the corpse only to find Egyptian hieroglyphics scratched into a kind of insect-type exoskeleton. Yet the doctor has his own plans, and though he appears gentle, his methods of life and death are almost maniacal but extremely surprising—especially once we discover his true identity.

There is an interesting cast at the helm of this show and though you might not imagine it could work, it does in this case. Eva Green (Casino Royale) as the poised and mysterious, Vanessa Ives is stand-out. From that magnetic look in her eyes that says so much, to the delivery of dialogue between her fellow cast-mates—she is definitely one to watch, as her performance is striking. She really embraces the intensity of her character with great punch. Her co-stars, Josh Harnett and former 007 himself, Timothy Dalton are complementary to Green. With Hartnett as the womanizing con-artist, he is a good choice to play the all-American sharpshooter and somewhat skeptical, Ethan Chandler. Though a bit stiff at times between dialogue, it’s certain Hartnett will grow into the character. It’s different to see him in such a mold but he adds a great hint of mystery through his bright brown eyes that we know are just full of dark secrets. Hartnett’s able to translate that unsaid torture comes off well. Dalton is exceptional, as always. He has done plenty since his days as Bond but plays Sir Malcolm with a genuine concern, steadfast dedication and vulnerability—something needed to play his character who is in desperate search of his daughter, Mina who–as literature might hint–might be lost in the grips of Dracula’s enchantment. Harry Treadaway as the Doctor who gets tangled up in Sir Malcolm’s search has a great artistic method of showcasing such blatant curiosity through just a glance. As there is a major crux in the final scene of the pilot, it will be interesting and fascinating to watch how boldly Treadaway can portray such an iconic figure from classic Gothic novels.

{Image Credit: Showtime}

Juan Antonio Bayona, director of 2007’s Spanish language horror film, The Orphanage, directed the first two episodes and did a remarkable job portraying a different side of supernatural made for television. The visuals of Penny Dreadful are appropriately dark and cold; shadowy and drenched in deep reds and grays. The series, which is an incredible fine balance between fantasy and realism, aims to tell a very specific tale. With its elegant art direction and grand sets, Penny Dreadful is able to showcase a constant tone of pragmatic jitters for audiences alike.

Penny Dreadful is a fantastically, creepy tale, wrapped in the grandeur of a feature-length film. The term “penny dreadful” may sound foreign to some, but it comes from the types of sensational fiction and British publications of the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories and only cost one penny. What works well for Penny Dreadful and Showtime is that they are able to bank on the popularity of similar themed shows like The CW’s Supernatural, but can explore grisly tales in an unadulterated fashion that are both unsettling and disturbing, while balancing realism. From the premiere episode, the show certainly promises a  lot more complexities and bizarre story-lines to come than the empty horror fare clogging up theaters or TV box-sets in recent years. Penny Dreadful does a good job of showcasing an appreciation for not just Gothic horror fiction, but classic monsters we’ve all come to know. With drawing from such works of fiction like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”; Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”; or Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, the show is an elegantly crafted opus that mashes up classic horror and weave together classic origin stories in an eight-episode arch, while exploring the tones and cultural calamities of the late era in London.

With Penny Dreadful drawing from classic Gothic literature and introducing Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray this season, it would be interesting to see the series open up for more characters like Abraham Van Helsing, The Wolfman, or even Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. The show has much potential to grow and explore not just literature, but urban myth and legends like with the case of Jack the Ripper. If the series follows in the footsteps of its premiere episode, this frightening psychological thriller will be some refreshingly good spine-tingling fun for fans of the macabre period pieces, Gothic noir and intelligently written horror.

Penny Dreadful premieres May 11 at 10pm ET on Showtime and The Movie Network. For more information on the show, check out their official website.

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  1. ‘Penny Dreadful’ is a Bloody Good Time | westlifebunny - May 9, 2014

    […] Continue reading… […]

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