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The Dark, Dank World of Penny Dreadful

The Dark, Dank World of Penny Dreadful

Guest post by Darwyn Carson — Victorian era pulp fiction by
another name could have been Penny Awful, Penny Number, Penny Blood or Penny
Horrible. The name that caught was Penny Dreadful. It all added up to luridly explicit
stories printed on pulp paper to be woven into cheaply bound booklets.

Popular in the 19th century these stories played
out over weeks at a time and were a major source of entertainment for the
working class adolescent—mostly young boys—of the period. The plots varied, but
the aim was the same; to scare and to enthrall. Most importantly: to leave the
reader wanting more so that he couldn’t wait to shell out another penny the
next week, and the week after that and the one after that, to find out what
happened next.

These tales weren’t for the faint of heart; they were
violent and sordid.  Penny Dreadful
series consultant Dr. Matthew Sweet writes:  
“Aside from violent incident, the Penny Dreadful had another defining
quality: giddy freedom in the casting department. In The Dark Woman; or, Plot And
, for instance, the fictional heroine – Linda Mowbray, an
illegitimate royal who is the leader of a criminal gang – is involved in a plot
that also accommodates two historical figures who could never have met – the
notorious thief Jack Sheppard (1702-1724), and the future George IV
(1762-1830). To their readers, these impossibilities did not matter – not if
the latest instalment kept up the supply of breathless thrills.”

This Sunday, SHOWTIME’s Penny
explores that “place in the shadows,” the “demi-monde,” “a half
world between what we know and what we fear” and promises to stretch of
boundaries of logic and reason in order to keep us entertained and returning week
after week for our own penny’s worth of “more.”

In episode one we meet, Timothy Dalton as the legendary British
explorer Sir Malcolm Murray who is the acknowledged leader of this group of otherworld
urban adventurers. Eva Green is the mysterious Vanessa Ives whose relationship
to Sir Murray is yet to be unveiled. She seems unquestionably loyal and even
subservient to him. I kept wondering why, when she otherwise seemed so
surefooted and independent. Seductively roped into assisting them on their
first outing is Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler; an American sharpshooting
braggart, womanizer and hard drinker.  Harry
Treadaway is the nervous-acting, forward-thinking medical surgeon with a lot
more going on than his youth would lead one to believe. Will this be the
unified four to transport us through this dark and dank Victorian world week to

Episode One—The Wrap Up: There’s so much right with the
overall production of the show it’s near impossible to relay, without sounding
like an award show.  So, just to
spotlight a few: The four lead characters, given to us by the gifted creator
John Logan (Skyfall, Hugo, The Aviator), are worth watching. I was left
feeling curiosity about them. What could be better? The production design by
Jonathan McKinstry is exceptionally of-the-time and, in fact, so severe in its
bleakness, it elevates the sense of tension created by the bizarre goings-on. The
director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible) gets the final nod for a tightly
paced episode that made me jump more than once and, I’m not ashamed to say, view
two of the scenes through the forest of my steepled fingers as I peeked through;
afraid to watch, yet not looking away for fear of missing a second. Well-done.

Tune in this Sunday night to see what happens on SHOWTIME’s Penny Dreadful 11pm. Episode 1: “Night

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