By Baz Bamigboye
Eva Green will play a troubled soul at the heart of a psycho-sexual drama series that may be too ‘adult’ for a mainstream British television channel.
The actress, who stars in Casino Royale and in forthcoming blockbusters Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, and 300: Rise Of An Empire, is the leading lady in Penny Dreadful, a Gothic TV drama from the pen of John Logan, who wrote Gladiator and Skyfall.
Penny Dreadful is set in London in 1891 and focuses on supernatural characters — Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde — who link up with Eva’s character Vanessa Ives.
Logan said that because so much of the series is built around a female protagonist and set against a perception of repression in Victorian society, ‘we have a fair amount of frank sex’.
‘To be sexually empowered was outlaw behaviour in Victorian England,’ he added.
Josh Hartnett plays Ethan Edwards — the sole American in the series, who is named after John Wayne’s character in The Searchers.
‘He’s been touring with a Wild West show but quickly leaves that and becomes embroiled with Vanessa and the other characters,’ Logan said.
Once Sam Mendes and Pippa Harris from Neal Street Productions and the American Showtime channel linked up with Logan, the writer started walking through London’s Victorian haunts like ShadThames and Highgate Cemetery to get a feel for the city of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde (whose The Picture Of Dorian Gray was also an influence).
Logan, who will also executive produce the series with Mendes and Harris, said he hoped the show would make viewers jump out of their skin. ‘We’re going to go “Boo!” in a way we hope people haven’t experienced.’
But he said he wanted to look beyond the horror of supernatural creatures. ‘I think the reason people remember Frankenstein’s creature is not because of the monster’s make-up; it’s because there’s so much heartbreak behind his eyes, real pathos,’ he mused.
The writer also suggested one of the reasons we still read the Dracula and Frankenstein novels is because we identify with the misshapen creatures.
‘That goes to the heart of Penny Dreadful. The creatures all feel alienated, and they all want a mate,’ Logan told me, as we sipped ice-cold drinks at the Covent Garden Hotel.
He cited Mary Shelley’s physical and psychological state when she wrote Frankenstein. She’d had a miscarriage and was ‘dealing with the issues of being a woman, a mother, burying her child, and what her body was doing’.
‘All those stories are ripe with sexual connections,’ he said. ‘Certainly Dorian Gray is. In 2013 we can dramatise them. If the character is motivated by desire, whether it’s violent, sexual, erotic or romantic, then we can dramatise it.’
Shooting begins in October on locations in the UK. The programme will be shown in Britain but may be too adult for mainstream ITV and BBC channels. Maybe it will find a home on cable or satellite channels, as it has in the U.S. on Showtime.
There are five other main characters still to be contracted.
One thing’s for sure: it will look extraordinary. Jonathan McKinstry, who worked on Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein film and TV’s The Borgias, will be production designer. And Oscar-winning Gabriella Pescucci will design the costumes.