“There Is Some Thing Within Us All”
With a tag line like that no wonder Showtime’s Horror/Thriller/Drama series is critically acclaimed. Penny Dreadful is a dark and twisted tale based in Victorian London. The show is filled with an eclectic group of characters telling a deeply convoluted story about the dark things that hide in the shadows and how often your own inner demons are far more terrifying than the monsters lurking amongst you.
In a TV era where show’s about witchcraft, demons, vampires, werewolves and basically all things supernatural has become the go to premise, Penny Dreadful finds a way to stand out from the crowd. Two things aid in catapulting Penny Dreadful to the top of the class. The show is filled with a diverse grouping of original character as well as existing ones from throughout literature which instantly helps you connect with the series. The second; the backdrop of 19th century Victorian London instantly immerses you into the dark and thrilling world of Penny Dreadful, giving the show an authenticity from the opening scene.
Every show needs a unique premise, but without strong interesting characters no matter what the premise is a show will fall flat. Penny Dreadful has taken a risk, they have decided to use both existing characters throughout literature and original characters. Its a risk because when you are rewriting the personality to characters that people are attached to you can alienate the fans that are attached to them to the point that they will stop watching. The show has found a pretty good balance of keeping the core personality of characters like Dr. Frankenstein , Dorian Grey, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Each are well known characters, but the writers have found a way to give them each a younger modern twist that reemmerses you into their story.
The thing about putting such well known fully developed characters in a show, it makes it hard for the original characters to emerge out. It takes longer to develop the character for the audience to feel connected. The original characters like Sir Malcolm Murray, Ethan Chandler, and Vanessa Ives are such full bodied, diverse and full of layers you can’t help but feel invested.
The standout character which just grabs you from the beginning is Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). She is a captivating yet tortured female lead who really commands a presence on screen. From her pallid skin, unclean fingernail, to her dark ornate dresses, she really sets the tone for the series. Ms. Ives is a complicated character, but the best ones usually are. She’s in a constant struggle with herself. She’s someone who has great power within her, but with that power comes her greatest struggle on how to control it and not let it control her.
The overall theme of the show is that there is darkness in the world that can’t be denied. Setting the show in Victorian London gives that premise credibility. There is a certain glamour to the era and the city, you see that through each seen with the beautiful architecture and the Victorian dresses, but looks can be deceiving. The era is one not known for hygiene or cleanliness, its also a gloomier place so everything is a little bit darker. London itself feels like a separate character within the framework of the show which helps add another layer of intrigue.
The show is filled with plenty of characters and a simple premise, but its in the details that makes Penny Dreadful into a great show. The underground opiate houses, the debauchery and sexual promiscuity, and the fight between the daywalkers and Nightcomers all play into making Penny Dreadful feel like your being transported to this time where anything is possible.