TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

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Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

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DVD Review: The Shadow in the North

“I thought you had a bit of milk in your coconut”

The second (and last) of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries to be adapted for the television, The Shadow in the North very much pales in the shadow of The Ruby in the Smoke for me as the lesser of the two, which is a real shame as I did love the latter and felt it showed great promise in setting up the mini-franchise. This story sees Sally following up a client who has lost her savings after investing in a company, on Sally’s advice, which went bust suspiciously. The mysterious industrialist behind that company the Swedish Axel Bellman quickly set up again and so Sally’s instincts are aroused as she investigates the business dealings in order to get compensation for her client. But accusing such a powerful man of corruption and fraud sets her on a most dangerous course and puts the lives of those around her at severe risk.

So the ingredients are there, and the story is one I enjoyed reading, but something was just missing. The mystery never quite has the drive to keep the story going, the tone ends up being rather dour rather than dark and subsequently doesn’t grip like it ought. And its nature means that Billie Piper’s Sally is given less chance to interact with the key players around her – it is Pullman’s fault rather than the show’s but it is a real shame that Hayley Atwell’s Rosa is dispatched to marital bliss in the country within 10 minutes of the show starting as they made a great team. Instead, the personal intrigue is around whether Sally will admit to her feelings for JJ Feild’s Fred (still so handsome!) and Matt Smith’s Jim, thankfully no longer the narrator, hangs around like a bit of a spare part, though gets to do a lot of the investigating (bizarrely though off-screen and on his own…). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Shadow in the North”