‘Penny Dreadful‘ was horrifying, however anything but awful. An effective gothic tale of horror, love, death and death-defying action, its final run is now out on DVD…
For many, Penny Dreadful‘s run showed the potential for classic character ‘mash-ups‘ to a far more successful degree than the not dissimilar idea presented in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the film so divisive on every level that it led to Sean Connery retiring!). In the Showtime/SKY series, far greater risks have been taken with the characters and the potential they have to influence each other’s narratives and fate. It’s complex, compelling and a gamble that paid off in tremendous fashion – and though the series may not have been to everyone’s taste, its adult, mature and psychological angles appealed to true fans of gothic horror and it showed there’s still a place for such on our screens.
Going in to its third (and as it turned out, final…) season, the cast remained as strong as ever. A few years ago such diverse casting would have raised eyebrows, but the unlikely ensemble of Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear and Wes Studi (to name but a few) threaded their characters in memorable fashion, willing to take chances and expose themselves (sometimes quite literally). In particular Eva Green has that certain manic gothic demeanour that few other actresses can emulate. It served her well in the recent release of the more family-friendly Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children but Penny Dreadful delves much deeper and into more terrifying territory and gives her (and us) a Vanessa Ives who walks the line between haunted victim and demonic predator.
While its pacing was sometimes a case of ebb and flow, there were key moments when the actors gave us what felt like a superior stage-play, their words as powerful as their dark deeds and the production did best when it remembered that much of its original source material knew how to scare up true terrors by simply the power of words rather than imagery – though the latter was often eye-catching and unnerving as well.
There was much gnashing of teeth from fans when the news came that there would be no fourth run for Penny Dreadful, but the creators made that decision themselves, deciding to go out in style rather than continue the stories past the point they had plotted them to already. It’s a shame in many ways as, niche or not, Penny Dreadful was always able to surprise and entertain if you were willing to go down its dark alleyways and sometimes fatal dead-end streets. It does seem a fair grumble that the announcement of its end came after – and not before – that final run and perhaps led to fair expectations that we would see more of the surviving characters later.
Behind one of the most effective promotional-images we’ve seen in a long time (and defying many a DVD-set’s cut-and-paste cover, the three-disc set release of Penny Dreadful contains all the final run of episodes and several extras exploring the production. While they could have been more expansive, the featurettes do pinpoint some of the key factors such as prosthetics, character design, costuming and set-work. It would have been nice to get some more direct episode commentary from more of those involved, but in the end the work speaks for itself – sometimes with a howl, sometimes with words of cold comfort and sometimes with an unsettling chuckle.
Penny Dreadful: The Final Season is out now on DVD and blu-ray.