Sunday 18 February 2018

Couchsurfer: In for a penny

As Penny Dreadful returns to Sky Atlantic for season two, we takea look at the appeal of the first season, in particular its star, Eva Green

Eva Green
Eva Green

Emily Hourican

Penny Dreadfuls were cheap Victorian periodicals full of just the kind of thing to gratify the rather Gothic minds of their many readers - terrifying, macabre tales of horror mixed in with bloody, often true, crime accounts.

It is this heritage that creator John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo, Skyfall) has drawn on, the blurring of fact and frightful fiction, as his starting point for Penny Dreadful, now back for a second series.

First time out, the result was a not-entirely successful mix of stories, anchored by some common characters - including Dorian Gray and Caliban - and drawing on a mash-up of vampires, Dr Frankenstein, Egyptology and Satanic possession for thrills. Fun, and very watchable, laying bare the original myths of plenty of iconic literary creations, wrapped into a broader psychological thriller - Sir Malcolm Murray's search for his daughter, taken captive by the dark creatures of Victorian London. However, the supernatural world created never fully knits together. Is this a Christian God versus Devil conflict? And if so, where exactly do the Egyptian gods fit in?

That said, Penny Dreadful has plenty going for it, not least Eva Green, pictured, as the enigmatic, driven Vanessa Ives, the main, and by far the best, character. Green gives a remarkable performance as Ives, a clairvoyant who is helping Sir Malcolm in his search, switching from stunningly beautiful to psychotically terrifying, particularly when Satanically possessed, in an instant. For Green, who has been living in Dalkey for two years now, the choice has been an interesting one, allowing her to sidestep the kind of fame open to her after her role as Bond Girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, in favour of a more low-key, possibly more interesting role. It's a choice that seems to suit her personality. "I'm not that confident in real life," she insisted recently, "so sometimes I'm drawn to playing strong women because I wish I could be like this in reality. Like if somebody annoys me, I wish I could say: 'Off with his head!' In general, I am very scared, so it's kind of a dream to be so ballsy on-screen, even to be rude and evil. In reality, I'm really quite an introvert. Although I'm an actor now and have been for several years, I was so shy in school. I never talked and I thought I was going to pass out every time the teacher asked me a question. So, weirdly, maybe even masochistically, I decided to take theatre classes to be somebody else and to maybe gain some confidence. Then, I found I really enjoyed it and then I knew it was OK, that what I wanted to do was be other people."

Aside from Green, Penny Dreadful has attracted, and retained, a strong and experienced cast, including Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm (apparently aged 71 but looking a very fit 20 years younger), Rory Kinnear (son of the late Roy) as Frankenstein's creature, the excellent Simon Russell Beale (whose series one cameo is happily being bumped up for series two), and Sarah Greene as Hecate, daughter of spiritualist Evelyn Poole, played by Helen McCrory. Billie Piper as Brona Croft, an Irish immigrant seeking to escape her brutal past, struggles rather with the Belfast accent, but has plenty of presence, and really, only American singer/ songwriter Reeve Carney lets the side down somewhat - miscast as Dorian Gray, he lacks either presence or menace.

Sets and costumes are both excellent, and the series' atmosphere manages to be both glamorous, lavish and believably squalid. Recognisable locations around Dublin and Wicklow, including the Botanic Gardens, Dame Lane, Bray Head, the Kings Inns and Dublin Castle add to the interest, but really, if the second series can tighten up plot lines and structure, this won't need any help at all.

Penny Dreadful returns to Sky Atlantic on May 5th

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