SPENT PENNY

With Penny Dread­ful at an end, cre­ator John Lo­gan looks back at the show’s great­est bites…

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - WORDS CHRIS HE­WITT PENNY DREAD­FUL THE Com­plete Se­ries IS OUT on 24 oc­to­ber on DVD AND BLU-RAY

PENNY DREAD­FUL, WE hardly knew ye. In an age where hit TV shows seem­ingly trun­dle on for­ever — The Walk­ing Dead look like they’ll never get to sit down — John Lo­gan’s glo­ri­ously gory and vastly un­der­rated Gothic hor­ror fin­ished its run this summer af­ter just three sea­sons. The end, when it came, was so sud­den that there was much spec­u­la­tion among fans that Show­time, the network be­hind the show, had pulled the plug. The dreaded C-word was men­tioned.

“It cer­tainly wasn’t a can­cel­la­tion,” says Lo­gan. “It just seemed right. And I knew it would be very dif­fi­cult for some of the fans, be­cause it’s such a full stop. I mean, the words ‘The End’ come up and that’s what it is. It was an end­ing.”

If you didn’t catch Penny Dread­ful dur­ing its all-too-brief run, you missed one of the most orig­i­nal shows on TV (and have no ex­cuse now for not giv­ing it a go). A gor­geous, big-bud­get ode to lit­er­ary hor­ror, Lo­gan’s mas­ter­stroke was (as with Alan Moore’s The League Of Ex­tra­or­di­nary

Gentlemen) bring­ing to­gether a num­ber of char­ac­ters from clas­sic Vic­to­rian lit­er­a­ture. So Do­rian Gray (Reeve Car­ney) would rub shoul­ders with Franken­stein (both sci­en­tist and mon­ster, played by Harry Tread­away and Rory Kin­n­ear), Ti­mothy Dalton’s Sir Mal­colm Mur­ray turned out to be the fa­ther of Mina Mur­ray aka Mina Harker aka a main char­ac­ter from Drac­ula. And with Franken­stein and Drac­ula (who would even­tu­ally show up in Sea­son 3, played by Chris­tian Ca­margo) on board, The Wolf Man wasn’t far be­hind in the guise of Josh Hart­nett’s Ethan Chan­dler — real name Ethan Lawrence Tal­bot, a nod to the Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures it­er­a­tion of the char­ac­ter.

An all-star mon­ster mash, es­pe­cially one caked in claret and fea­tur­ing enough shag­ging to keep Mr Skin in busi­ness for eons, seemed like an easy sell, but from the be­gin­ning Lo­gan strug­gled to get the project off the ground. “Even when I would talk about it with Show­time or Sam Mendes [Lo­gan’s pro­duc­ing part­ner], it was

dif­fi­cult to try to ex­plain the tone I wanted to achieve,” he says. “All the words I used were the worst pos­si­ble words: ‘ele­giac’, ‘haunt­ing’, ‘eerie’. It was hard to get right.”

En­ter his secret weapons: first, Juan An­to­nio Bay­ona, direc­tor of The Or­phan­age and A Mon­ster

Calls, shot the first two episodes. “He set a tem­plate that was ex­actly what we were look­ing for,” adds Lo­gan. “Se­ri­ous, per­haps earnest, a bit mourn­ful, with oc­ca­sional Tech­ni­color flashes of ex­cit­ing vi­o­lence and shock.”

And then there was Eva Green. While many fo­cused on the ‘name’ char­ac­ters, her dam­aged psy­chic Vanessa Ives was a Lo­gan orig­i­nal, and the true lead of the show. From the iconic séance se­quence in the sec­ond episode, when Vanessa is pos­sessed by de­monic en­ti­ties, Green took the show by the scruff of the neck. “She’s a hell of a trouper, that Eva Green,” laughs Lo­gan. “That scene was in­tended to say to the au­di­ence, ‘I know you think this is a show about Franken­stein and vam­pires and were­wolves. It’s not. It’s a show about this woman and her bat­tle with the devil.’”

Not only was Lo­gan showrun­ner, but he wrote all 27 episodes (only en­list­ing the ser­vices of a co-writer twice). That level of con­trol — rare on any TV show — al­lowed him to shape Penny

Dread­ful as a very per­sonal story. “Speak­ing as a gay man who re­alised I was gay be­fore it was cool to be out, I un­der­stand what it is to feel you can­not be your­self and to feel con­strained by a so­ci­ety that does not love you, or value you in any way.” It was also a stealth fem­i­nist TV show. As well as Vanessa, Bil­lie Piper’s pros­ti­tute Lily, Patti Lupone’s Dr Seward and Helen Mccrory’s Sea­son 2 an­tag­o­nist Eve­lyn Poole were where the true power lay. “The rea­son I chose the Vic­to­rian era was be­cause of the corset. It was lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively about the corset­ing of women,” he ex­plains. “And the fe­male char­ac­ters get stronger and stronger as the show goes on. It was al­ways in­ten­tional that by the last year it would be a sym­phony of fe­male voices.”

As it be­gan with Vanessa, it was only fit­ting it end with her, vam­pirised af­ter fall­ing for Drac­ula’s bulging fangs, and ask­ing Ethan — her cham­pion — to end her life. It was all about Vanessa’s arc. And when that came to an end in the fi­nal episode, so did the show. “The story re­ally only had one out­come,” says Lo­gan. “When Vanessa would achieve the apoth­e­o­sis, that would be the fi­nale of drama. I just knew it would have to end. I talked to Eva about it, and she was com­pletely cool.”

Lo­gan has moved on (to Alien: Covenant with Ri­d­ley Scott), but he’s jus­ti­fi­ably proud of his cre­ation. “I think we ended the story with grace, and for all the char­ac­ters with a cer­tain amount of dig­nity and beauty. To keep it go­ing for rea­sons that were ve­nal or less than ar­tis­ti­cally mo­ti­vated would be an act of bad taste.” Or, if you will, dread­ful, some­thing the show con­spic­u­ously man­aged to avoid. So why start now?

Lit­er­ary char­ac­ters reimag­ined along­side new cre­ations in Penny Dread­ful. Rory Kin­n­ear (Franken­stein’s mon­ster) with his ‘cre­ator’, John Lo­gan. Be­low: Lo­gan with Eva Green.

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