The Skyfall screenwriter John Logan has explained some of his thinking behind the creation of the new TV series Penny Dreadful, on which he has collaborated closely with James Bond director Sam Mendes.
The new series, which will run to eight episodes, has the backing of the ‘Showtime’ network in the USA and also the ‘Sky Atlantic’ satellite channel, and will be premiered on American TV in 2014, possibly as early as March.
The plotline to the new series will blend supernatural and classic horror elements with a ‘re-imagining’ of some key characters from three iconic Victorian gothic novels: Frankenstein (1818; 1823) by Mary Shelley; Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker; and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890; 1891) by Oscar Wilde.
In a new Production Blog about the TV series (the second one to be released by Showtime), Logan dissected the gothic literature that influenced his creative thinking about the series and its overall purpose.
Logan opened his new Blog by noting the astonishing literary creativity of Victorian England in the late Nineteenth Century and reflecting on how this had kick-started his own thinking about the period. He said: ‘In practically a ten-year span, Dracula, A Picture of Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Island of Dr. Moreau, War of the Worlds, were all written, and I started thinking how amazing that all those essential texts of the horror genre were written within ten years. What was in the water in Victorian London to make this happen?’
Logan, who is the main writer as well as one of the executive producers on the series (along with Mendes and Pippa Harris), then explained that, about ten years ago, he happened to read the novel Frankenstein: ‘It was very moving to me and I thought the next logical place to go is Dracula. I was just fascinated by why those two books were so important to me and to so many other people. There had to be a reason’.
Logan concluded that the stories were so appealing in their time because they were about the ‘unease and anxiety’ that Londoners felt about science and evolution in Victorian times, and the authors had been able to transmutate this anxiety into their gothic literature.
He said: ‘What we want the series to be is disturbing and honest’. In particular, in Logan’s estimation, Frankenstein, Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dracula, ‘cut so deep into what it is to be alive, to be unhappy, to want’. And that’s what he wanted to ‘re-discover’, he said, with Penny Dreadful.
Logan also explained that he decided to meld these three books into one story, ‘mixing and melding’ the three stories into one new narrative.
Shooting on the new series began on October 5, 2013, with a planned five-month filming schedule. For tax reasons, the main shooting has taken place on location in Ireland, mainly in studios near Dublin and in Dublin itself, including at Dublin Castle. This has been satisfying to the producers, as, ironically, Oscar Wilde (who died in 1900) was born and educated in Ireland’s capital city.
The cast of the new series includes some very familiar names to Bond fans, such as former 007 Timothy Dalton (who will play Sir Malcolm, a hardened African explorer), Eva Green from Casino Royale (who will play Vanessa Ives), and two veterans from Skyfall, Helen McCrory (who will play Madame Kali) and Rory Kinnear (who will play The Creature). Green has already been seen briefly in the first short trailer for the new series, praying frantically as a wolf or hound is heard in the background.
Other key cast members include Harry Treadaway (as Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Billie Piper (as Brona Croft), Reeve Carney (as Dorian Gray), Josh Hartnet (as Ethan), and Simon Russell Beale (playing Ferdinand Lyle, an eccentric Egyptologist).
Sam Mendes will team up with Simon Russell Beale again this January, when he will direct Russell Beale in a new stage production of King Lear at the National Theatre in central London. The new version of Shakespeare’s classic play will preview from January 14, and open to the general public on January 23, 2014.
It is believed that Logan has already turned in a basic outline treatment for Bond 24, which will be directed by Mendes. The Skyfall duo will start main production on the next 007 movie in autumn, 2014, for a 2015 release.
Trivia Note: Producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli were behind the now-famous movie The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), which starred Peter Finch. Studios at the time were reluctant to finance the movie because of its ‘controversial’ subject matter (Wilde’s sexuality). Faced with a near-boycott, Allen and Broccoli took a huge gamble on the film and bravely financed it themselves. It probably broke their partnership, but it became a celebrated movie. And here is something strange: Wilde’s butler in the movie was played by an Australian actor whose real-life name was… Ian Fleming!