Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It’s The League of the Supernatural Gentlemen, or Thoughts on Penny Dreadful Season 1

Penny Dreadfuls, the Victorian precursor to American pulp fiction, was a response to the rising literacy amongst the working class and one of the first iterations of pop culture.  Instead of reading Jane Austen or poems by Browning, the people wanted tales of sordid murders and unspeakable crimes.  This demand gave rise to the supernatural themes that we enjoy to this day, perhaps the most famous of the time being Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood.
Which brings us to Season One of Penny Dreadful (2014), which takes a bunch of literary titans: Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein and his Creation, Dorian Grey, and in future seasons Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and places them (figuratively) in an elegant Victorian drawing room.  All of these characters are in public domain and up for grabs, but they also provide a cinematic shorthand for the kind of series the audience can expect.
The most interesting characters however, are the ones that have been specifically created for the series, especially former Bond Girl Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, the breakout star.  Her portrayal of a tormented, psychic witch, devout without being tiresomely preachy, solemn and sensual, all eyes and refined manners, acts as an emotional core to the series. 
Timothy Dalton, proving once again that there is life after Bond, as Sir Malcom Harker, the default leader of the expedition, or at least the one with all the money.  Josh Hartnett plays Ethan Chandler, the American cowboy with a secret, originally hired as a bodyguard and becomes a valuable member of the team.  Along the way he meets Doctor Who favorite Billie Piper as Brona Croft, (“means sadness” she explains in a coarse working-class Irish lilt).
Harry Treadaway and Rory Kinnear as Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster weave in and out of the story as Sir Malcom’s medical expert while going off to perform his own experiments.  Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of the Monster as a savage, anguished yet eloquent man of the Modern Age is complex and layered with nuance.  The Frankenstein addition makes the series technically steampunk, but the series remains firmly in the supernatural demi-monde, as Vanessa Ives explains.  The ridiculously handsome Reeve Carney as Dorian Grey, but alas we don’t get to see his portrait until Season Two.
In this gaslit world of opium dens and Grand Guignol theaters, the vampire gets an Egyptian mythos back-story and the audience is treated to a shocking monster switcheroo with Dr. Frankenstein.  The modern, almost Matrix-like action scenes, juxtaposed with the sumptuous costumes and period-accurate sets work better than they should, adding to the unreal quality of the dark world they are exploring.  The Individual story arcs intersect nicely as the plot is centered amongst a small group in London, rather than, say, a diverse group in Westeros.
Much like HBO’s Rome and Starz’ Spartacus, the series also goes to great pains to include LGBT characters and how they lived and were treated in that time period.  Simon Russell Beale plays Ferdinand Lyle, an amateur Egyptologist, closeted and married, in the sense that Oscar Wilde was also married, Dorian Grey is bisexual and even Ethan Chandler romances men with the same easy charm that he does women. 
The First Season has the team fighting vampires, introducing the players and saving Sir Malcom’s daughter, Mina Harker.  If that name is familiar to you that is because you remember it from a certain novel by Bram Stoker, another author who has been dead for at least 101 years, and the countless movies based on it.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.