Besides nicer weather, this spring will also bring a slew of hotly-anticipated TV shows back to the airwaves, including HBO’s extremely popular medieval fantasy/political drama Game of Thrones and BBC’s cult sci-fi/mystery Orphan Black. However, even with so many decent options to fill your small screen order available already, there should still be room for a new series or two – and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful (which arrives this May) could be one such newcomer worth adding to your TV viewing slate.
For those unfamiliar, Penny Dreadful is the brainchild of Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan, whose Skyfall director Sam Mendes is also executive producing.
The title of Logan’s new series is the term that was used for lurid and sensational British fiction – where each installment cost (you guessed it) a single penny – that was published back in the 19th century. Logan’s series likewise mixes elements of Gothic supernatural horror, eroticism and mystery, resulting in a show that is being sold as high-art pulp entertainment (just watch one of the trailers and you’ll see what we mean).
Certain famous literary characters – like Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) – will be featured on Penny Dreadful, though the series’ dark fantasy version of Victorian London features many a new (and mysterious) resident to boot. The show’s official website will be getting a serious upgrade next week (as part of the next wave of marketing), providing the curious with more tidbits of information about the series’ players, in order to further pique their interest.
In the meantime, IGN has exclusively premiered news character profiles (reads: official images and details) for the Penny Dreadful ensemble, which you can peruse through at your leisure below:
Sir Malcolm Murray, played by Timothy Dalton (Licence to Kill, Hot Fuzz)
A hardened African explorer on a deeply personal quest, Sir Malcolm has nonetheless paid a heavy price for his exciting career. Although his stately home is filled with marvelous souvenirs of his travels, it is devoid of family and loved ones. With Vanessa’s help, he is determined to right the wrongs of his past, but his toughest journey lies ahead.
Vanessa Ives, played by Eva Green (Casino Royale, 300: Rise of an Empire)
Poised, mysterious and utterly composed, Vanessa is a seductive and formidable beauty full of secrets and danger. She is keenly observant — clairvoyant even — as well as an expert medium. Her supernatural gifts are powerful and useful to those around her, particularly Sir Malcolm, but they are also a heavy burden. Her inner demons are very real to her and everyone around her, and they threaten to destroy her relationships, her sanity, and her very life.
Ethan Chandler, played by Josh Hartnett (Sin City, 30 Days of Night)
A charming American who finds himself trapped in the darkest corners of Victorian London, Ethan’s charm and brash ways are catnip to the ladies. When Sir Malcolm enlists him to help in a personal quest, Ethan meets Brona Croft, a beautiful local with a mysterious past. But behind Ethan’s bright eyes lurk dark secrets. He is running from something, and his troubling past threatens to overtake him at every turn.
Brona Croft, played by Billie Piper (Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl)
Brona is a poor Irish immigrant to Victorian London trying to escape a dark and sordid past. The Gaelic meaning of her name is “sadness,” yet she remains lovely, spirited, and erotically alive. She forms a bond with Ethan Chandler, who will do anything for her.
Sembene, played by Danny Sapani (Misfits, Trance)
Sembene is an African man with ritual face scarring who serves as Sir Malcolm’s sentry and confidant. He has an air of mystery about him and his heroic efforts will prove invaluable to Sir Malcolm in his personal quest.
Dr. Victor Frankenstein, played by Harry Treadaway (City of Ember, The Lone Ranger)
More Romantic poet than surgeon, Dr. Frankenstein is a tender, gentle soul who is fascinated by the mysteries of life and death. He has dedicated himself to researching what makes something live, and has sacrificed everything for his scientific pursuit. But he is playing with fire, and his research pays off in shocking ways with devastating consequences.
Dorian Gray, played by Reeve Carney (Spread, The Tempest)
Dorian Gray is a fabulously wealthy young gentleman who is almost unnerving in his beauty. His skin seems to radiate a golden glow of intoxicating youth and promise. A recklessly abandoned aesthete, he has a devil-may-care attitude that borders on dangerous. Nothing seems to faze him, nor are any risks too great. In fact, he is unnaturally drawn to them.
No expense has been spared on creating a living and breathing historical London backdrop for Penny Dreadful, while the show’s core acting lineup is quite respectable, taken as a whole.
Still, the question remains: will Logan’s approach to re-inventing the multiple classic horror icons and character archetypes outlined above give rise to a deliciously macabre and maybe even frightening series – stitched together with different elements (read: tropes) like Frankenstein’s monster – or a show that is as handsome and dark, yet also soulless as Dorian Gray (sidenote: my apologies for the puns, couldn’t resist)?
Thing is, Penny Dreadful continues to intrigue with every new image and collection of footage released, but it reads as one of those undertakings where the ambition behind it could lead to its downfall. Either way, the pilot by Juan Antonio Bayona (director on the acclaimed Spanish-language supernatural horror film The Orphanage) – which will serve as the opening chapter in a first season that will span eight episodes total – certain looks worth checking out, if nothing else.
Penny Dreadful premieres on Showtime on May 11th, 2014.