‘Sex, blood, violence and good-looking people’


Shelley Marsden hears from the cast about Penny Dreadful, Sky Atlantic’s fantasy horror drama…

PENNY DREADFUL, the dark new psychosexual drama which has just started on Sky Atlantic which has already opened to rave revises across the Atlantic, its creator John Logan (who shares credits for Gladiator) is inspired by Gothic classics.

Filmed in Dublin, the home of Dracula author Bram Stoker – the violent supernatural drama is inspired by the classics of horror literature, with Stoker’s novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray all feeding into Logan’s vision. For fans of fresh takes on the Gothic, it’s pretty close to perfection.

In the stunning and totally batty first episode, directed by The Orphanage’s Juan Antonio Bayona – Penny Dreadful explicitly tips its hat, for example, to the Frankenstein story, as well as revealing Harnett’s character in the scariest Wild West wig I’ve ever seen.

But it also introduces Logan’s own creation, a group of troubled people who inhabit something Eva Green, who plays an insect-whispering fortune teller, describes as “a half-world between what we know and what we fear”.


Timothy Dalton and Eva Green
Timothy Dalton and Eva Green

The cast is impressive, including obsessive explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), the medium with the permanently furrowed brow, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), sexy sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Belfast prostitute Brona Croft (Billie Piper). Irish World award winner Lorcan Cranitch (Cracker), incidentally, guest stars in episode one.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes, an executive producer, was at the series launch and stressed that of the creative team it was Logan, who he worked with on 2012 Bond movie Skyfall, that was the true heart of the project.

He said: “I was sitting in the cutting room for Skyfall – which he co-wrote – and he came in with a completed script. What I read is almost word-for-word what you’re going to see on the screen.”

And though 19th century horror is the touchstone for the show’s seriously creepy stories, the creative team behind Penny Dreadful say there’s more to it than simple “chills and thrills”.

“There’s always a danger of perceiving shows like this as just genre pieces,” Mendes confessed. “But this is a great story about many different people – and it goes in directions you can’t possibly imagine…”

Former Bond Timothy Dalton said that it wasn’t so much about those famous novels, but that “those characters simply serve as an inspiration”, adding in his eminently dry fashion that you could sumup the show thus: “You could say it’s sex, blood, violence, psychological terror and good-looking people!”


For Hollywood star Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbour), Penny Dreadful marks his return to TV after a 15-year hiatus. That the show has attracted such high calibre film actors is yet another indication of the quality and scope of the genre now, able to pull in cinema’s crème de la crème as quality directors, hacked off with the troubles involved just in getting a feature film off the ground, turn to the small screen.

Filming in Dublin must have been a homecoming of sorts for Hartnett, whose father is half Irish. He must have enjoyed his time in the Irish capital – he said recently that filming there was dangerous, as you had to be home by a certain hour so you could get up and perform the next day.

It wasn’t an attraction to the horror genre that lured Hartnett towards Penny Dreadful, but the chance to work with people with a vision like Logan, who he believes its success was entirely dependent on.

“Look, this was a risky endeavour that could have been a spectacular misfire in the wrong hands. It could’ve been schlocky if not handled correctly and by the right people… We all had that knowledge before we started.”

The 35 year old, who in recent years has turned down a series of big Hollywood roles to pursue more art-house projects, said: “I play Ethan Chandler, the only American in the piece, and you don’t really know why he’s there in the beginning and he’s full of mystery, and then after the first couple of episodes you want to ask him why he’s sticking around, because so many supernatural things are happening.”


Billie Piper
Billie Piper

“I play a prostitute again, yes! Brona is this kind of shanty, feral creature”, says Billie Piper of her saucy character. “She comes to London and is escaping a tragic past which kind of continues a bit, but she finds a kindred spirit in Ethan… and in various others. She’s interesting.”

The 31 year old actress, who played Rose Tyler in Doctor Who and Belle de Jour in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, said Penny Dreadful is far scarier than anything she came up against as the Doctor’s sidekick: “Not that I was scared of the Daleks myself … But yes, as much as it has all the supernatural elements, lots of it is about mortality.

“It is about people existing on the outskirts of society becoming one and living with the demons and darkness. And I think all of that is pretty scary, far far scarier than the Daleks.”


Supported by the Irish Film Board, Penny Dreadful was filmed entirely in Dublin and County Wicklow, recreating Victorian London in the Irish capital.

It follows in the footsteps of History channel’s Vikings and BBC period crime drama Ripper Street – which also doubles Dublin for Victorian London and was recently renewed for a third series, despite being cancelled by the BBC last year.

“We did try to shoot in Britain, but nowhere was free for that amount of time”, said Dalton. “But Ireland also has tax breaks – it’s all about the tax breaks, people!”

Tax breaks aside, creator John Logan has said Ireland was a “truly inspirational place to film Penny Dreadful”. He added: “The city’s unspoiled architecture perfectly captures London at the turn of the last century. Also the ghosts of Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde walk these streets, which is pretty inspirational for us too.”

During filming, Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said it was also key for the Irish economy: “Penny Dreadful is a project worth EUR33 million to the Irish economy. By improving the incentives for producing film and TV here, this government is aiming to grow the sector even more.”

There are obviously big ambitions for Penny Dreadful to continue beyond this series. Said Mendes:”I think what you’re seeing here is hopefully the beginning of a story. One that lasts not just weeks but years of our lives, in the way that great long-form television can.”


Penny Dreadful goes out on Tuesdays, 9pm, on Sky Atlantic.




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