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Penny Dreadful: Sex, blood, violence and good-looking people

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"This really is the singular vision of one person - and I was lucky enough to be in his vicinity when he had the idea."

Oscar-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes may hold an executive producer credit on Penny Dreadful but he's quick to emphasise that it is John Logan - also his collaborator on the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall - who is the driving creative force behind the fantasy horror series.

"I was sitting in the cutting room for Skyfall - which he co-wrote - and he came in with a completed script," Mendes recalls. "What I read is almost word-for-word what you're going to see on the screen."

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Billie Piper as Brona Croft, Harry Treadaway as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm and Danny Sapani as Sembene in Penny Dreadful

© Showtime

The cast of Penny Dreadful - coming soon to Sky


Penny Dreadful was shot in Dublin - the home of Dracula author Bram Stoker - and is a television drama inspired by the classics of horror literature, with Stoker's novel, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray all feeding into Logan's vision.

But it is a roster of original characters - obsessive explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), troubled medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and charming gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) - that are at the dark heart of this series.

"It's not so much about those characters [from the novels]," Dalton says of the drama. "Those characters simply serve as an inspiration."

Harry Treadaway as Dr Victor Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful episode one

© Showtime

Harry Treadaway as Dr Victor Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful


The figure most explicitly linking Penny Dreadful to the tales that inspired it is Dr Victor Frankenstein - the archetypal 'mad scientist' given a dark, dramatic revamp by Logan and played with twitchy vigour by rising star Harry Treadaway.

"I didn't watch any of the old films - there's about 80 and I didn't watch any of them!" Treadaway grins.

"I read most of Shelley's book and then I felt I was juiced up enough to go onto Logan's script - and in both his original scripts and the source material of Mary Shelley's novel was this fascinating character."

But while it has its roots in 19th century horror, the creative team behind Penny Dreadful are keen to emphasise that the show has much more to offer than simple "chills and thrills".

"There's always a danger of perceiving shows like this as just genre pieces," Mendes admits. "But this is a great story about a great many different people - and it goes in directions you can't possibly imagine."

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in Penny Dreadful episode one

© Showtime

Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler in Penny Dreadful


In its opening hour - helmed by The Orphanage director Juan Antonio Bayona - Penny Dreadful does pay homage to the greats. But it is Logan's own creations that hold the viewer's attention - a complex and conflicted party who dwell in what Green's character calls "a half-world between what we know and what we fear".

Hollywood star Hartnett insists that it was not the trappings of the horror genre but the opportunity to work with the likes of Logan and Bayona that lured him back to television after 15 years away. Their involvement, he believes, was absolutely crucial to the success of Penny Dreadful - a "risky endeavour" that could have been a spectacular misfire in the wrong hands.

"It could've been schlocky if not handled correctly and by the right people," he acknowledges. "We all had that knowledge before we started."

Eva Green as Vanessa in Penny Dreadful

© Showtime

Eva Green as Vanessa in Penny Dreadful


And the final product? "You could say it's sex, blood, violence, psychological terror and good-looking people!" deadpans Dalton.

It's certainly a project that all involved are keen to further. With Penny Dreadful debuting to strong ratings and rave reviews across the Atlantic, cast and crew are quietly confident about its future as Sky Atlantic prepares to launch the show in the UK.

"I think what you're seeing here is hopefully the beginning of a story," Mendes says. "One that lasts not just weeks but years of our lives, in the way that great long-form television can."

Penny Dreadful begins Tuesday, May 20 at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.

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