noun: penny dreadful; plural noun: penny dreadfuls
a cheap, sensational comic or storybook.“penny dreadful comics”
late 19th century: so named because the original cost was one penny.
Sweeney Todd – the Butcher of Barber Street
The title refers to the penny dreadfuls, a type of 19th-century cheap British fiction publication with lurid and sensational subject matter. The series draws upon many public domain characters from 19th-century Irish and British fiction, including Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Victor Frankenstein and his monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
It’s nonsense. It’s very well made, ridiculously pretty, literary based supernatural nonsense.
So it’s a given that I’m smitten.
Eva Green (Vanessa Ives) and Timothy Dalton (Sir Malcolm Murray – father of Dracula’s beloved Mina Harker) – lead a stellar cast that seem determined to revisit every myth, monster and mystery of the Victorian era. Vanessa Ives is utterly bonkers – controlled and mysterious one moment, climbing up walls the next. True to form, Vanessa is another Green creation that views every problem as an opportunity to get naked and have sex with it.
Reeve Carney also stars as Wilde’s fantastically shallow Dorian Gray – a character that exists thus far purely for two reasons – the first is to have sex with the prettier cast members; followed up by ponderously gazing at a portrait – presumably *that* portrait.
To add to international appeal, Billie Piper – proving that she can convince as a hooker in any time period – plays the tragic Brona Croft. She is dying of TB and an over wrought Irish accent. But it’s not all doom and gloom – the charismatic Josh Hartnett portrays an enigmatic gunslinger and love interest. Gotta take the bad with the good yeah?
For me – without a shadow of a doubt – the true humanity of the series has been best realised in the development of Frankenstein’s monster Caliban – ably brought to half-life by the wonderful Rory Kinnear. His anguish at the rejection of his creator – Harry Treadaway as Doctor Victor Frankenstein – a cold, cruel and curious man with flashes of vulnerability – makes for a sympathetic if horrifying character.
The set pieces are beautiful, even if everything is shot with such heavy Gothic overtones that it gets tricky to see. There is an equal investment in exploring the time period as well as a variety of supernatural beliefs prevalent at the time. While the demonic possessions are fun and the monsters wonderfully bleak; the scariest elements so far have been based in the scientific – the Doctor’s horrible experiments and the stark reality of health provision for Vanessa when she was institutionalized.