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Review: Showtime's Sexy, Horror Soap Penny Dreadful is Slow Yet Enticing

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Showtime’s latest serial, Penny Dreadful, is a gory, supernatural look at Victorian London. Set in the 1890s, a few years past Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror, viewers are introduced to a world where mother and child can be torn limb from limb by a creature of the night. 

Only a select few seem aware of the true horrors which lurk in the dark.  Among the regular folks, characters from some of the most revered in Gothic literature will be weaved into the story. Those masterpieces include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Taking place at a time when mysticism was the favorite party trick, this tale comes together around actual spiritualist Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who does not wish to exploit her cursed gift. She has teamed with renowned African explorer and aristocrat Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), who searches for the daughter once snatched away by vampires.

Together they enlist American expatriate, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), as a hired gun. He must quickly become a believer in the supernatural, after facing off against pointy-toothed undead. Soon, the trio entices Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) for his unorthodox knowledge of such beings.  As a new threat terrifies Londonites, our protagonists also have their own ghoulish pasts to battle.

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Billie Piper, as a prostitute suffering from consumption, rounds out the cast, along with Reeve Carney, as the beautiful and debauched Dorian Gray.

Creator John Logan crafts an intriguing world for both the regular viewer and readers of the novels. It is thrilling to see how established elements from the tales are incorporated or changed. Some choices are so interesting, that even a purist will have to enjoy. The project is also extremely well cast, especially with Green, who has made a career of playing sexy, mysterious types.

The series seems a bit slow moving at first, not unlike the novels by which it is inspired. It takes two episodes before the most prominent characters are all introduced. However, once the initial exposition is dispensed with, audiences will crave the next installment.

Penny Dreadful premieres Sunday, May 11 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

Photo credit: Showtime