FYC: Eva Green in ‘Penny Dreadful’

Eva Green

Emmy-worthy Eva Green possesses viewers’ minds, hearts, and souls in Showtime’s gothic horror series Penny Dreadful

Eva Green’s season one Penny Dreadful performance was the stuff of legends. For such a beautiful woman with that china doll’s face, Green demonstrated a proficiency for contorting her entire physique to render the tortured character of Vanessa Ives. Green astonished with an impossibly nimble interpretation that, during one early season seance, seemed to suggest that Ives was a marionette’s doll, fighting against her master’s strings. It wasn’t simply a well spoken performance. To coin a phrase, Green acted the shit out of that character. Emmy sadly failed to notice though.

To be fair, Penny Dreadful premiered late in the Emmy cycle and chose to defer its eligibility into the next Emmy year. While Emmy watchers certainly understood it, it’s possible Emmy voters were simply confused after the faded a bit by the time it was eligible. Most likely, though, is the series’ status as the textbook definition of an acquired taste. In a recent interview with AwardsDaily TV, Bates Motel writer/producer Kerry Ehrin lamented the fact that someone referred to her acclaimed series as one where “they just kill people in the motel every week?” Penny Dreadful likely suffers from the same preconceived notions. Looking from the outside in, casual viewers unfamiliar with the material may simply consider it extremely well art directed gore.

And they’d be half right, of course. Yet, what sets it apart from such a close-minded reputation is the passion star Eva Green pours into the material. While season two does not give her as many stand-out, buzzy moments as season one, Green is allowed to portray a much broader experience, a challenge that she clearly accepts and exceeds.

Eva Green
Photo courtesy of Showtime.

The first half of the season throws many obstacles at Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives. The assailants – Satanic female monsters led by witch Evelyn Poole (a brilliant Helen McCrory) – hardly matter. In fact, the less you know about them and their backstory, the better off you’ll be as an Emmy voter. The focus here is Vanessa Ives’ increasingly unstable and beleaguered persona, culminating in a near-mental breakdown in the middle of the season. Ives retreats with Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) to a cabin owned by a former mentor, the Cut-wife (Patti LuPone).

This episode, “Little Scorpion,” gives Eva Green her finest moments of the season. I would argue she excels here because she’s allowed to play something of a normal, well adjusted human being. Arriving at the cottage, Ives is a mass of jittery, unsettled nerves. She is constantly looking over her shoulder at the potential evil mere steps behind. It’s not until she and Ethan begin setting about the average, everyday tasks of setting up a house – finding a bedroom, clearing up the cobwebs, finding food, and lighting candles. There must always be candles. At least 42 of them.

Green’s performance completely amazes here thanks to the effortless joy she employs when relaxed and entranced by Ethan Chandler. Green even smiles and laughs broadly. Those of you who know Penny Dreadful are well aware what a unique event that is, and Green wears it exceedingly well. Her conversations with Hartnett may appear to be throw-away material, but this is Green spreading her acting wings and showing how brilliantly she can perform the easier acting notes provided in the series. She clearly loves a challenge, but there must be valleys to accompany the peaks. A true sign of acting genius is how confidently you play the valleys while waiting for the peaks. These quiet, comtemplative, and dialogue-heavy scenes are perfection thanks to Eva Green’s confidence as an actress.

That’s not to say she doesn’t have peaks in the episode. Season two liked to give her extended sequences in which she launches into nearly possessed states as she rattles off Satanic spells in an ancient tongue. She has one near the end of “Little Scorpion” where she exacts revenge against a local who recently insulted her but was directly responsible for the death of her beloved mentor. Green again contorts and constricts her body into near-impossible states as she flies through what could be pages of otherworldly dialogue.

Eva Green
Photo courtesy of Showtime.

She has a similar moment in the season two finale where she summons the rage and aggression collected over the course of the season and unleashes it against Poole and her creepy collection of possessed dolls. An amazing sequence, it perfectly completes the high-tension Penny Dreadful season two.

Whether or not Emmy voters love these scenes is up for debate. I, however, remain a committed fan of Eva Green’s work here. She has mastered the brilliant interpretation of the complex and damaged character that Vanessa Ives has become. Green has ignored the season breaks and uses all material at her disposal from season one to build an extremely convincing air of despair and anguish from year to year. When Green/Ives finally breaks at the end of the season, it is a staggering achievement of acting brilliance.

Or, to coin a phrase, Eva Green just acted the shit out of Penny Dreadful season two.

Penny Dreadful season three continues to air Sunday nights on Showtime at 10pm ET. 

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