Penny Dreadful Review

Penny Dreadful is a 2014 supernatural dark fantasy horror drama thriller television series created by John Logan, starring Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Rory Kinnear, Billie Piper, Danny Sapani, Harry Treadaway, Josh Hartnett, Helen McCrory, Simon Russell Beale, Patti LuPone, and Wes Studi.   The series follows explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler, scientist Victor Frankenstein, and medium Vanessa Ives unite to combat supernatural threats in Victorian London.


Positives:

  • Great performances
  • Deep, compelling characters
  • Awesome soundtrack
  • Engaging story
  • Very violent
  • Terrific special effects
  • Clever writing

Negatives:

  • Stories don’t feel fully connected
  • Ending is anti-climatic
  • Some characters don’t feel fully fleshed out

Plot: The series follows psychic Vanessa Ives, gunslinger Ethan Chandler, explorer Sir Malcolm Murray and other gifted individuals who attempt to live their regular lives while dealing with dark supernatural forces that threaten humanity, the bulk of which centers around Miss Ives.  It’s a slow build but it serves the show well with its twists and turns.  The storytelling allows character development for its characters.  Although it jumps around to the various characters and their lives they don’t necessarily all connect to what can be considered the main plot.  There are three stories; the main story with our anti-heroes attempting to protect Vanessa from evil forces, Victor Frankenstein’s relationships with his creations, and Dorian Gray’s.  Unfortunately the three stories never really come together which could’ve made for more interesting moments. (3 out of 5)

Characters:  As great as this show is, it’s really the characters that drive the core of the enjoyment.  Each character has their own rich personality, interesting backstory, and own personal situation that they have to deal with.  And to add to this is how strong their chemistry is, the most prevalent being that of the relationship between Vanessa and Ethan. Both characters have are “cursed” and it’s good seeing how they take comfort with each other as their feelings for each other grow. The main cast includes Vanessa Ives In truth, there is a focus on too many characters.  Three characters who feel extremely wasted on the main story are Dorian, Lily, and John Clare.  Some of the antagonists are more interesting than others.  Evelyn Poole is probably the most prominent villain of the bunch and she actually has a lot of personality. Lucifer and Dracula are the two major players but they don’t feel as prominent, their presence doesn’t feel as far reaching as it should.  The characters are just great. (4 out of 5)

Cast: Terrific performances by the brilliant cast, which includes Eva Green (Vanessa), Timothy Dalton (Sir Malcolm), Josh Hartnett (Ethan), Reeve Carney (Dorian), Rory Kinnear (John Clare), Harry Treadaway (Victor), Billie Piper (Brona/Lily), Danny Sapani (Sembene), Helen McCrory (Evelyn Poole), Simon Russell Beale (Ferdinand Lyle), Patti LuPone (Florence/Joan), and Wes Studi (Kaetenay).  Green is just in her element and she’s just absolutely brilliant.  Loved Hartnett and Dalton’s performance.  Large supporting cast that include but are not limited to Olivia Llewellyn (Mina), Alex Price (Proteus), David Warner (Abraham Van Helsing), Sarah Greene (Hecate Poole), Douglas Hodge (Bartholomew Rusk), Jonny Beauchamp (Angelique), Shazad Latif (Dr. Henry Jekyll), Christian Camargo (Dracula), Samuel Barnett (Renfield), Jessica Barden (Justine), Sean Gilder (Franklin Ostow), Brian Cox (Jared Talbot), and Perdita Weeks (Catriona Hartdegen). (5 out of 5)

Visuals: The production value is high and the show’s unique design reflects this.  The various set pieces, locations, makeup and costume design should be acknowledged.  Visually the series is on point with the dreary. , grimy total to an otherwise dreary story.  The Victorian era setting is perfect for the dark art style and Gothic-like theme. (4 out of 5)

Score: the score is dark, rich with ambiance and emotion.  The opening theme with the strings is powerful.  All those who contributed to the overall score should be commended for crafting such a beautiful soundtrack.  The sound is done well and a big thumbs up to Abel Korzeniowski for the show’s theme “Demimonde”.  Loved the music for the series finale “A Prayer” performed by Sohpie Meade. (5 out of 5)

Writing: The writing is honestly some of the best considering the source material.  It’s a pretty dark show with its share of violence, nudity, and gore.  It brings the classic monsters into a new, young, and refreshing perspective.  John Thames does a great job of having his characters dig deep within themselves to exercise their inner demons as well as those externally.  And for those who appreciate dialogue the dialogue is exceptional and sounds like poetry.  The story focuses on death, loss, isolation, life and identity suffered by those who are different.  The emotional payoff is well worth the wait.  The storytelling would’ve benefited better had it actually brought the stories together rather than keep them separate.  There could’ve been more memorable moments had Ethan met the reincarnated Brona now Lily, pitting Ethan against Victor.  How would John Clare would’ve faired when the group go to confront Dracula.  Could Dorian have helped the group by providing centuries of knowledge of the supernatural. Hell, could Dorian have met Dracula in his several lifetimes.  Even the ending seems open ended and because of it some of the characters don’t feel fully…I don’t know.  We get Dr. Jekyll but the anticipated Mr. Hyde never shows though they introduce his procedure.  Dracula isn’t really given nothing to do.  Yeah, he’s cool but there’s never a scene where he is a badass. Have him transform or something. (3 out of 5)


The Verdict:  In the end, Penny Dreadful is one of those rare supernatural television show that is dark but deep.  There are some problems with the writing particularly when it comes to the subplots and some of the characters.  However, the series features a deep, compelling story, well-written characters, great atmosphere, a beautiful score, great special effects, a lot of violence, and brilliant writing.  Penny Dreadful gets 4 out of 5.

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