Penny Dreadful, thank you for being a thing.
Writer and director John Logan created the series for Showtime, inspired by nineteenth-century gothic thrillers that were mass produced and sold on the cheap. You’re likely more familiar with the vintage magazines than you realize; perhaps two of the most famous serial stories to appear in the penny dreadful magazines were String of Pearls and Varney the Vampyre (the former introducing us to Sweeney Todd, “the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the latter an early influence of author Bram Stoker, predating Dracula by more than fifty years).
The Showtime series offered a fresh take on classic literature, combining tales from many beloved gothic horrors. Logan borrowed public domain characters such as Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein, Van Helsing, and Dr. Jekyll, and placed them in the same setting of Victorian era London.
Showtime’s presentation of Penny Dreadful (starring Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Reeve Carney, Billie Piper, Harry Treadway, and Rory Kinnear) recently wrapped up after three complete and beautifully tragic seasons. And dammit if I wasn’t devastated to learn that there wouldn’t be a fourth season. Even if they felt that they’d taken the current plotlines and characters as far as they could go, the premise could easily be renewed with a whole new troupe of characters and stories from other gothic horrors. The above mentioned Sweeney Todd and Varney the Vampyre, just to name two. This series was so wonderfully written and acted; at some point, I think I’ll do a series of “Drawn to” illustrations dedicated just to this show. But for now, I’ll let my focus fall upon the ultimate antagonist of the series, and while he wasn’t physically introduced until the third act, this was possibly my favorite portrayal of this infamous figure to date.
Christian Camargo portrayed the iconic master vampire. The character of Dracula has appeared in film, television, and theater more times–and by more actors–than I have time to research. He’s been portrayed as mysterious. He’s been suave and sophisticated. He’s been over-the-top and mad with power, and he’s been a vicious beast without mercy. But Camargo’s portrayal combined the best of all worlds. There was a subtlety to his mystery, more aloof and indifferent than “mysterious man of the night.” But when we learn who he truly his, his power shines through without question, letting the viewers know he’s an imposing figure to be feared. Credit must be given–not only to Camargo’s acting chops–but also to the writers, art directors, and set designers to bring this character to life in a way that retained the classic appeal of Dracula while still seeming wholly original.
If you’ve yet to watch the series or don’t have access to Showtime, you can now watch seasons one and two on Netflix. So, uh, yeah. What are you waiting for? You’re still reading, which means you’re not watching. Go. Seriously. Thank me later.
That’s it for today. Until next time…
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