Penny Dreadful ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp
Three episodes have aired so far of the new Showtime series, Penny Dreadful. It’s set in London in the 1890s and has a gallery of interesting characters. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) plays a wealthy explorer whose daughter, Mina, is missing. She seems to have fallen into the clutches of a fiend or a really bad person along the lines of Count Dracula. In an ongoing effort to rescue his daughter, Sir Malcolm has joined forces with a woman known as Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who, we are told, “is affected by forces outside our world.” Sir Malcolm and Vanessa have engaged the services of one Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), an American sharpshooter traveling in England with a Wild West show; his unerring deadly aim might come in handy. For any medical services, Sir Malcolm enlists the aid of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).
Victor Frankenstein is my favorite character. He has a sort of soulful intensity and the dimple in his chin doesn’t hurt either. He lives in a dark hovel and experiments with creating “men” from parts culled from cadavers. When the series begins, we find that the “creature” he has created is doe-eyed, sweet and gentle, not at all a “monster.” Victor names him “Proteus” from Shakespeare. (My favorite scene is when Victor realizes during a thunderstorm that Proteus is up and walking around, meaning that he is “alive.” Victor is so astounded he is breathless.) Just when Victor and Proteus are getting on so well, Victor’s first “creature” (that we didn’t know about until that moment) returns and kills Proteus. He is much scarier than Proteus and knows how to spread mayhem to get what he wants. He is befriended by an actor drawn to freakish people who gives him a job as a sort of stage hand in the Grand Guignol theatre, which specializes in theatrical bloodletting and gory stagecraft. The actor gives him the name “Caliban,” also from Shakespeare.
Penny Dreadful is a horror story with elements of other famous horror stories interwoven—Dracula and Frankenstein to name two—with a subplot involving an Egyptologist, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, an ancient curse from a couple of Egyptian deities who are upset about something, and a cadaver with Egyptian hieroglyphics written on it (or in it). Also thrown in (to what purpose we don’t know this early in the story) is Dorian Gray, the principal character from Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, a man who, while steeped in venality and vice, maintains his youthful appearance while his portrait displays the ravages of corruption.
Even if Penny Dreadful isn’t groundbreaking in its originality, it is still beautifully appointed in every detail, beautifully written and acted, and fun to watch. Quality TV for the viewer with discriminating tastes. My only complaint is that some of the night scenes (and it’s mostly all night scenes) are so dark that you sometimes don’t know what’s going on. It’s the darkness that’s the mood and theme of the show.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp