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Book Review: The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful book cover

@omandoriginal falls for The Art of Penny Dreadful...

I must start this with a confession... I haven’t actually watched Penny Dreadful series yet. So it was with some sense of trepidation that I approached the companion book from Titan Books, wondering if I would be totally lost with this companion book by not being a “dyed in the wool” fan of the show. I needn’t have worried.

What a beautiful and informative book! What author Sharon Gosling has done is managed to make a  book that also stands alone as study of both the era in which the show is set, the characters from the literary classics and the problems involved in bringing all of that to life for the modern television audience. With an interesting foreword by the show’s writer and creator John Logan, each set and character gets its own chapter, detailing the thoughts and design processes involved in achieving the right look and feel. I was fascinated to see how much of the sets had to be “green screen” produced in order to get a more period-correct London – it’s amazing to think The British Museum was “too clean” and needed so much work. I was interested too by the fact that some parts of the show were NOT done using CGI, relying instead on makeup and special effects, like the creation of the vampire, as they would have looked “too fake” if computer generated. Some of the detail involved, especially in the creation of body parts at a murder scene, is astonishing. As they say in the book “You’re aiming to fool somebody who’s looking at it from four inches away” so each body hair is placed individually and the blood and guts receive as much attention as the lead actors. As a fan of social history, I was also impressed by the amount of thought that went in to dressing the sets and the people correctly, with artists spending time researching accurate fonts for posters, creating a hand drawn journal for Dr Frankenstein or finding the right make-up to accentuate the thread veining in the Somnolent Women. The sidebars and highlight boxes on subjects as diverse as the details of Ethan’s guns, the Victorian love of mazes and the creation of taxidermy dioramas add greatly to the wealth of information in this book. I also enjoyed reading about how the characters related to, and indeed sometimes influenced, their characters appearance and actions and involved the director became, making it sound more like an epic film or theatre production than television.

If anything this book has made me want to watch the series even more. The enthusiasm for the show from all the contributors is infectious and the attention given to the tiniest details in the book bodes well for a good production on screen. However, even if the idea of the show or the characters involved are not quite to your taste, I’d say this book is worth reading if you have an interest in either the design and technology involved in the making of a “period” drama or, indeed, in the history of the period itself.

This book will be read and re-read for a long time to come... and I will get round to watching the series. Promise.

Susan Omand

Twitter: @omandoriginal

Image courtesy of Titan Books (@TitanBooks)


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