Penny Dreadful: 1.01 Night Work

On our cinema screens it is fair to say that the horror genre has hit a bit of a brick wall recently. What with the endless output of Paranormal Activity and other well-worn franchises, we can certainly argue that the little screens have been boasting the bigger scares of late. For fun, terrifying and innovative horror, your local multiplex is not the place to go. Instead it’s Video on Demand, peculiar YouTube shorts or most prominently, television. Hits such as American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Hannibal and BBC Three’s In the Flesh are just a few examples of this particular boom. Now we have Penny Dreadful, another series to add to this canon.

Boasting an impressive cast of Eva Green, Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton, with creator John Logan and executive producer Sam Mendes at the helm, this series is an amalgamation of Dickensian England, gothic literature and all things lurid, sensational and supernatural. It follows Vanessa Ives (Green) and Sir Malcom Murray (Dalton) as they embark on a mission to rescue Murray’s daughter, Mina. In their course to do so, they enlist and interact with gun-slinging Ethan Chandler (Hartnett), in addition to familiar folk from 19th century fiction, such as Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray. Think Once Upon a Time, but with body parts, vampires and other macabre delights that await in the demi-monde. Agreeably, this concept may sound a little silly and superficial, but Night Work does a great job as a series opener, to entice and convince you otherwise.

Juan Antonio Bayona directs this first episode, and as the man behind The Orphanage, it is no surprise that we are treated to visual prowess. Everything in this episode is well shot, from the bustling expanses of London in the daytime, to the dark and claustrophobic framing of the night. The camera creeps and glides throughout each piece of scenery, be it Murray’s household or a darkly lit laboratory, and creates a continuous sense of unease at what dangers may be lurking. At the very least therefore, this first episode has done a grand job of setting the scene, in which day and night truly means life and death.

Amidst this world that has been created dwell our protagonists, who on the face of it feel rather two-dimensional and shallow (but that’s not to say that their performances aren’t strong). We’ve got the archetypal, gothic heroine Ives with her strong jaw-line and pale skin, boisterous American Chandler with a skill for shooting and the overtly camp, European acquaintance, with a moustache that won’t quit. Each characterisation at times feels farcical, however we're never too far from an interesting snippet of dialogue, smirk or lingering stare, that alludes to much latent, emotional depth just waiting to be unearthed.

Despite coming across a little shallow and superficial, Night Work is a well crafted insight into the world of Penny Dreadful. Aesthetically pleasing and boasting one or two set pieces to satisfy the gore-hounds, an undeniable allusion toward depth and terrible wonders is evident, creating an intrigue that, much like Frankenstein’s monster, is most certainly alive and ready for whatever unfolds.

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