Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Arts

Fucking and fighting

Flamboyant horror fest Penny Dreadful returns to Sky Atlantic on Tuesday with a new series. Hannah Dunleavy takes a look at the first episode.

PrintIt’s tricky reviewing Penny Dreadful as, like its Victorian namesakes, it doesn’t always bear much analysis. Craziness happens, you feel a bit shocked/repulsed/sick, it finishes, you move on.

If you’re unfamiliar with the camp monster mash of Victorian gothic novels, here it is in a nutshell. Dr Victor Frankenstein joins forces with Sir Malcolm Murray (Mina Harker’s father in Dracula) and his intense sidekick Vanessa Ives to fight the stuff in the shadows. Dorian Gray periodically swings by in case anyone (and it is literally anyone) needs a good seeing to, plus there’s a cowboy with a secret, a kindly Irish prostitute with tuberculosis, Frankenstein’s Monster, werewolves, vampires and an African bodyguard who seems like he’d be interesting if he was ever given anything to do. All aboard the Good Ship WTF Just Happened. Full steam ahead.

Rory Kinnear as the CreatureIt’s almost impossible to categorise the Showtime series, other than to say it’s the trashiest thing to ever have the audacity to star Simon Russell Beale. Completely, and quite knowingly, OTT, it succeeds in fusing rather predictable storytelling with a series of short, sharp and very effective shocks. Rory Kinnear’s Creature literally forcing himself onto our screens has to be one of horror’s great arrivals and certainly one of television’s most memorable.

That’s it, you heard me right. Rory Kinnear. In fact, the standalone episode in which he and Alun Armstrong pottered around, delivering some wonderfully purple ye olde dialogue was an absolute treat.

Elsewhere, it was a case of throwing enough plot at the wall and seeing what stuck. The cast are a motley crew of actors who all threatened to be really famous at one point of their career and then…

“Frankenstein’s wild science, a tendency to exposition and the arrival of more previously benevolent British acting talent means it can almost feel like TV for children. Until someone starts, you know, sexually assaulting a corpse.”

Josh Hartnett is pretty low-key as the US gunslinger roped into the madness, although I’m never sure if that’s an acting choice or a necessity. In contrast, Eva Green is positively bouncing off the walls as the psychically troubled Miss Ives. I know it’s not possible to give 110%, but if it were, I’m pretty sure her writhing around on the bed possessed by demons is what it’d look like.

Penny Dreadful cast shotThe series two opener picks up where we left off – in style and substance. It remains almost petulantly haphazard (London is blanketed in beautiful snow one moment, and the next it all seems to have cleared up) and continues to lure you in with moments of calm before taking a turn for the nasty. In fact, Frankenstein’s wild science, a tendency to exposition and the arrival of more previously benevolent British acting talent – series two welcomes David Haig and Ruth Gemmel – means in parts it can almost feel like TV for children. Until someone starts, you know, sexually assaulting a corpse.

Elsewhere, there seems an attempt to force some 21st-century concerns into 19th-century England. In fact, what with the moaning about foreign business types stealing customers and pubs being demolished to build houses, it’s rather UKIP: The Gothic Years in parts.

As a setting-its-stall-out episode, this shows there’s a lot of fun to come, clearly, including the intriguing possibility of Frankenstein’s Monster’s love triangle. Or more likely, as this is Penny Dreadful, threesome.

There are also witches – boom – who all appear to be perpetually on the verge of orgasm. And on that note, episode one was Dorian Gray free, so no clue as to his future plotlines, other than the obvious guess of more shagging people into insanity.

The characters examine Frankenstein's MonsterThere’s also more on the werewolf front, with the bloody mess from last series finale’s massacre to clear up.

But the lycanthropes aren’t the only ones howling at the moon. After only moderate success pitting our ‘heroes’ against a faceless evil in the first series, the second’s gone for Helen McCrory as the menace inflicting some psychic violence on Miss Ives and her crew.

And, mercy, does she throw herself into it, giving Green both a run for her money and another woman to play off. I fully expect my TV to explode by the series end.

@funnypunts

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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.