Music for this Post: Conquest of Spaces by Woodkid
John Logan’s creature is alive and thriving. He spares no expense to bring us the darkest and most fun Victorian London this blogger has seen in a long time. The plot is wound like a spiderweb: infamous icons of gothic literature, from van Helsing to Victor Frankenstein, band together to solve the mystery of missing Mina Murray, abducted by a monstrous blood-sucker.
A combination of these archetypal literary gods and a stable of original characters is very effective, especially in the way that these new people, with earnest and vivid stories of their own, allow the viewer entrance to this gothic world, which might otherwise lose itself in the crusty murk of antiquity. Without these characters bringing a fresh perspective, the others would fall into the pit of iconography, seen once too often in pop culture.
That being said, what makes Dreadful engaging is its attention to the particulars of the past. The show is a visual dessert, full of yummy details. Something particularly exciting to me is the costume and set design. Two principal characters really push this idea of bringing true relevance to old stories. As the cast explore the gloomy, wicked streets of London, they bounce around this intriguing purgatory between classic and contemporary.
In this post I’ll look at the first of my examples…
Victor Frankenstein is a young man dominated by his past, from the faraway trauma of his mother’s death, to the echoing shock of defying that death with unnaturally resurrected life. His own creation (played with raw and exquisite pain by Rory Kinnear) calls him out on this. The creature refers to himself as the future, something made, born from the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, and to Victor as the past: a slowly dying mortal, obsessed by romantic notions of science and progress.
It wasn’t until after I watched this scene that I really noticed Victor’s costumes. His look is characterized by an almost Georgian silhouette more akin to a Jane Austen novel. The high-waisted trousers, the popped collar, the necktie nice and tight. He certainly doesn’t belong in another Pride & Prejudice remake, but he doesn’t quite fit in with his co-stars. Costume designer Gabriella Pescucci was very smart to consider the visual presence of Victor: fixated on yesterday, desperate to make himself important to tomorrow. He literally appears stuck between past and present.
Production Designer Jonathan McKinstry and Set Decorator Philip Murphy also contributed a lot with their concepts for Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. The space is imagined here as a refurbished attic, littered in equal parts with dirty equipment and books. In many shots you can spot volumes of Keats, Shakespeare, or Byron, all poets of a bygone era by Victorian standards.
The room is warmed by oil lamps and looks more like a sepia snapshot than a physical space, with everything shadowy and hazed over. Elements of science and of romantic nostalgia blend in frenetic chaos, giving the impression of the inside of Victor’s mind….