TV preview: Penny Dreadful

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler.
Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler.
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Hollywood heart-throb Josh Hartnett was 18 when he last had a role on television, but the 35-year-old has finally been lured back to the small screen to star in the new gothic horror Penny Dreadful.

It’s little wonder, given that the series is created and written by John Logan, the man who penned the screenplays for Hugo and The Aviator, and who’s shared writing credits for Any Given Sunday, Gladiator and Skyfall.

Logan’s also an executive producer on the show, alongside his friend Sam Mendes who, fresh from the success of Skyfall, will be helming the next two Bond films (Logan will be writing the scripts). Quite the dream team.

“It was really about the collaborators for me, being able to work with John and Sam, and Juan Antonio Bayona [The Impossible], who directed the first two episodes. He started it with such grace, and it’s so filmic because of his direction right at the beginning,” says Hartnett, who sprung to worldwide fame in 2001’s Pearl Harbor.

“And of course, it was great to be able to work with this wonderful cast,” he adds, looking to his co-stars; former 007 Timothy Dalton, Doctor Who alumna Billie Piper and rising star Harry Treadaway (French actress Eva Green also has a leading part).

Set in Victorian London, Penny Dreadful begins with the police investigating a series of gruesome murders, but renowned explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Dalton) and the enigmatic Vanessa Ives (Green) believe there’s something darker at play. Together with the help of sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Hartnett) and Dr Victor Frankenstein (Treadaway), they set out to uncover the truth.

“It’s a risky endeavour because it [the show] could be schlocky if not handled correctly by the right people, and we all had that knowledge before we started,” notes Hartnett.

The eight-part series, which was filmed in Dracula author Bram Stoker’s home town of Dublin, hovers somewhere between the tangible and supernatural, and weaves some of literature’s most frightening and beguiling figures into the mix, including Dorian Grey and Frankenstein’s monster.

But while there’s a fair dose of blood and gore, Dalton doesn’t think of it as a genre drama.

“I think of it as a human drama about very flawed, interesting people, and that’s much more interesting to me than doing a horror film,” says the 70-year-old.

Penny Dreadful begins on Sky Atlantic tonight. (May 20)

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