Tag Archives: Skyfall

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful a lively monster mash

'Penny Dreadful'

Josh Harnett, Eva Green, Danny Sapani and Timothy Dalton (from left) star in ‘Penny Dreadful,’ premiering tonight on Showtime.


Penny Dreadful, the hugely entertaining new eight-episode Showtime series premiering tonight, takes its title from the lurid serialized horror stories that sold for a penny at Victorian newsstands (the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd is based on one such yarn). Happily, there’s nothing either cheap or dreadful about this lavish and completely unpredictable new period drama.
John Logan, the Chicago-born Tony-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Skyfall), strives to capture the spooky, often gory spirit of those vintage chillers by weaving together recognizable figures from literature, such as ageless lothario Dorian Gray and obsessed Dr. Victor Frankenstein, with original characters of his own, whom he brings together and sends off on a delightfully macabre mission.
Penny Dreadful opens in 1891 London, in the aftermath of the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders. As the police turn their attention to a new spate of gruesome crimes, celebrated explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) comes to enigmatic spiritualist Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) with a plea for help: His daughter, Mina (the name is a tip-of-the-hat to Dracula), has gone missing. Both Malcolm and Vanessa suspect that supernatural forces are afoot, so they enlist the assistance of American Wild West sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and, sure enough, soon stumble into a nest of feral vampires.
As their quest takes one unexpected turn after another, their party is joined by Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), whose own studies into the thin veil between life and death dovetail nicely with Malcolm’s mission. Not long after that, the group encounters Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney from Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) and Brona Croft (Billie Piper, Doctor Who), a consumptive Irish beauty. Other distinguished guest stars include a hilarious Simon Russell Beale as Ferdinand Lyle, a flamboyant Egyptologist, and Helen McCrory as Madame Kali, a (probably fake) clairvoyant.
Beyond that, I won’t spoil any of the surprises awaiting Penny Dreadful viewers – partly because, two episodes in, I honestly don’t know where the hell Logan is going with this nutty narrative. Suffice it to say that both episodes I’ve seen feature absolutely top-tier special effects and, much like those old horror tales snapped up by titillation-hungry Victorians, each episode ends with a jaw-dropping twist that will leave you jonesing for the next installment.
Harry Treadaway

Harry Treadaway stars as Victor Frankenstein in ‘Penny Dreadful.’

A ‘Hollow Crown’ brimming with wonders

RICH00690RichardII
Ben Whishaw
One of the big events of the fall TV season arrives tonight with the PBS premiere of The Hollow Crown, a Great Performances four-week miniseries featuring lavish adaptations of a quartet of Shakespeare’s most gripping history plays.
Cast with some of Great Britain’s finest classically trained actors, Crown chronicles the turbulent rise and fall of three English Kings – Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V – and how their reigns helped shape British history.
Tonight’s premiere features Richard II, a lesser-known play here in the States, but absolutely gripping in this film directed by Rupert Goold. Ben Whishaw, who played gadget guru Q in the James Bond blockbuster Skyfall, stars as the vain, capricious and self-centered monarch whose penchant for acting on spiteful whims is revealed almost immediately, as Richard is petitioned by a cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), to settle a dispute with Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy from Fox’s The Following).
Ultimately, Richard renders a judgment that pleases no one, banishing both men from the kingdom, although he rewards Henry’s past loyalty by sending him away for “only” six years. That’s more than enough, however, to break the heart of Henry’s elderly father, John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart), who dies soon after his son departs. Wasting no time, Richard seizes the family’s property and possessions that are Henry’s birthright, then heads to Ireland to put down a rebel uprising.
In the king’s absence, a furious Henry defies his banishment, returning to reclaim his inheritance. With the heartfelt support of allies Northumberland (David Morrissey, The Walking Dead) and the Duke of York (David Suchet, Poirot), Henry readily takes Richard prisoner and lays claim to the throne as King Henry IV.
Whishaw, who won a BAFTA Award (the British Emmy) as best actor for his role, gives a fascinating performance as this rather effete and aloof monarch, a portrayal that is mildly off-putting in his early scenes, but builds in intensity and tragic stature as Richard’s destiny takes a series of appalling turns. At two and a half hours, Richard II is the longest of these films, yet it feels the shortest, because Goold keeps things moving at such a nice clip.
H4_080212_JB0020Prince Hal
Tom Hiddleston
On Sept. 27, Henry IV, Part I finds a much older Henry, now played by Jeremy Irons, beset by myriad troubles as his reign moves into its twilight years. What really has him most worried, however, is that Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers) is sowing his wild oats with a drunken old knight named Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale, who won the BAFTA as best supporting actor) at a tavern run by Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters) instead of dutifully preparing to assume the throne. In fact, Hal’s misbehavior is causing such a scandal that a challenger to the throne, Hotspur (Joe Armstrong), is having no trouble building a coalition of supporters.
With rebels threatening the succession, Hal ultimately returns to his father’s side, but not before one of the most unforgettable comic moments in the miniseries, as Hal makes fun of his father, giving Hiddleston an excuse to show off his absolutely pitch-perfect vocal impression of the great rumbling drawl Jeremy Irons seems to favor in most of his roles these days.
In Henry IV, Part II (Oct. 4), the king’s ministers step up their efforts to drive a wedge between Hal and Falstaff, and they get their wish after Hal overhears Falstaff belittling him and catches the boozy knight in a series of lies. After Henry IV dies, Falstaff is convinced his ship finally has come in, but he is in for a rude awakening as Hal ascends the throne as King Henry V. In both films, director Richard Eyre brings to vivid life the uproarious medieval messiness of Falstaff’s world, although every now and then a scene gets so busy that we lose track of the story.
The miniseries concludes on Oct. 11 with director Thea Sharrock’s moving treatment of Henry V, which previously was adapted into critically acclaimed feature films starring Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh. Hiddleston continues in his regal role, looking every inch a king as Henry faces a series of challenges from the French monarch (Lambert Wilson). The first hour or so feels elegiac, including as it does the deaths of both Falstaff and his ne’er-do-well companion Bardolph (Tom Georgeson), but as events lead us inevitably to the high-stakes battle of Agincourt in France, the mood becomes more stirring. In the climactic moments, when Henry and his small, exhausted and bedraggled army must confront a well-rested French force five times its size, Hiddleston delivers his rallying speech to his troops thrillingly, while Sharrock frames the battle action in such a way as to make us believe there are far more soldiers on the battlefield than was actually the case.
Production values are absolutely top-notch, and the supporting cast also includes Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey), Maxine Peake and Tom Hughes of Silk, Clemence Poesy (Fleur from the Harry Potter films), Alun Armstrong (New Tricks), Lindsay Duncan (Rome) and Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By), among many others. Needless to say, I highly recommend The Hollow Crown. Be careful, though, to check your local listings, because some PBS affiliates carry their own local programming on Friday nights and will schedule Crown in a different time period.
H4_230112_JB_0121Falstaff
Julie Walters and Simon Russell Beale