Hunted by Dracula and the Devil himself, troubled clairvoyant; Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), is plunged into a war for her very soul, in John Logan’s (screenwriter of ‘Gladiator’ and ‘The Last Samurai’) occult period drama. Miss Ives is joined by aloof explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), his stoic comrade-in-arms Sembene (Danny Sapani) and fugitive American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), together; they struggle with their inner demons whilst fighting Satan and his minions in 19th century London. Our protagonists encounter all manner of otherworldly creatures, spooky goings on and an array of literary icons like Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), Frankenstein’s ‘monster’ (Rory Kinnear), Professor Van Helsing (David Warner), Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) among others.
LIGHT & DARK
One of the best things about this show; was how John Logan and producers Sam Mendes & Pippa Harris, strove to create flawed characters; people who’ve sinned and have been sinned against. After all, Vanessa Ives is essentially a good woman; who witnesses an act of betrayal in childhood, harbours and eventually weaponizes that memory to inflict a similar pain upon an innocent party: The guilt she carries becomes an entry point for evil, and she’s literally ushered into a dalliance with the Devil. Crushed by her insecurities and doubts, Miss Ives is dragged screaming into the abyss and left to sink or swim.
Sir Malcolm Murray is depicted as an old colonial of sorts, whose exploits in Africa are exposed as vainglorious facades indented to mask his shortcomings as a father and husband. Murray’s ‘adventures’ are scathingly, and truthfully, mocked by a Devil-possessed Miss Ives (in season 1, episode 7); who memorably recounts his crimes & indiscretions abroad.
Ethan Chandler is another enigma: on the run from his oppressive father and a shadowy past riddled with terrible violence, he’s weighed down with regret for his role in exterminating Native Americans in the U.S.-Indian Wars.
‘Penny Dreadful’ is, in some respects, a very Catholic story about guilt, original sin, temptation, temperance and redemption: Vanessa’s struggle is multi-faceted; wrought with inner turmoil and outer anguish. She’s forced to fight on two fronts: “Even my prayers aren’t safe anymore”, she remarks. And faith is a recurring theme here; as we see her desperate attempts to reconcile her wants & desires as a woman, with her supernatural abilities and an undeniable attraction to the darkness within.
ALL ABOUT EVA
‘Penny Dreadful’ isn’t all about Eva Green, but it wouldn’t be ‘Penny Dreadful’ without her; in much the same way as ‘The X-Files’ was David Dochovny & Gillian Anderson or ‘American Gothic’ was Gary Cole.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Eva Green: It was in ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (2005); and her epic entrance epitomised everything we’d come to know and love about the brilliant French actress in the decade that followed: A mysterious, veiled figure on horseback approaches from a distance; galloping hooves kick up miniature plumes of sand and dust: Her horse comes to a halt via a gaiting cantor and trot; and as the sand begins to settle; we can just make out the rider’s Kajal outlined, piercing green eyes from behind her beaded and bejewelled scarf; she removes the veil, reigns in her steed, and enters cinema legend.
Now Eva Green’s movie & television career has been rather hit and miss: From hits (in my book anyway) like ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘Camelot’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ to middling fare like ‘Perfect Sense’, ‘Franklin’, ‘Womb’ and ‘300:Rise of an Empire’.
But its here that that we finally get to see Eva in all her glory; an elemental force of nature: Her pale, slender frame harnessing power like a lighting rod; before channelling it outward in a spectral blitz of visceral fury. Miss Ives is mercilessly put through the wringer in standout episodes like ‘Closer Than Sisters’ (Season 1, Episode 5) and ‘A Blade of Grass’ (Season 3, Episode 4) and rises to the occasion each time. They’re many fine actors in ‘Penny Dreadful’ (Rory Kinnear and Reeve Carney in particular) so its especially difficult to stand out amongst such a high calibre cast, but Eva Green just about manages to do it: Nailing a potentially problematic role that often goes from the sublime (e.g. enjoying an afternoon stroll in Kew) to the ridiculous (e.g. battling a demonic puppet in a Witch’s coven).
THE CURTAIN FALLS
‘Penny Dreadful’ ran for three successful seasons; some people weren’t too happy with how it ended, and there were certain character arcs and subplots that felt underdeveloped or incomplete. But in the final analysis; the show achieved most of what it set out to do, and has earned its place amongst programmes that ran for a lot longer with far more fans. Allegedly axed because of low ratings and high production costs (although Logan insists it was always planned as a three-season project) ‘Penny Dreadful’ will long be remembered as an intoxicating blend of dark fantasy and Victorian Gothic horror: A cult classic.