Alfred Pennyworth, within this series known as ‘Alfie’, though much better known as Alfred, the butler to Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, gets his own series.
Jack Bannon (“The Imitation Game”, “Fury”) plays the titular Alfie and he does so whilst putting on his best Michael Caine accent throughout. Caine, of course, played Alfred in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, though it was also played by Michael Gough in the Tim Burton version.
I mention this as it seems odd to me that you’d chose to play a fictional character in the vein of another actor who once played him. However, that’s not the only odd part of Pennyworth.
Alfie is British, a cockney, and lives in London with his parents Dorothy Atkinson (“Mum (TV)”, “Mr. Turner”) and Ian Puleston-Davies (“Coronation Street (TV)”, “Tin Star (TV)”). But this isn’t a London we know, from either now or the past.
It’s an odd version, blimps are in the sky, the air is thick with fog (or pollution). There are cars, but also still horse drawn carriages and we have colour TV but equally public hangings and thieves in stocks and cages dotted around the country.
There’s a few themes that pop-up throughout the series: Alfie is forever having flashbacks to his time in the SAS, when he was in the jungle with his friends Wallace MacDougal, Ryan Fletcher (“Beats“, “Shetland (TV)”), and Deon Bashford, Hainsley Lloyd Bennett (“Eastenders (TV)”, “Casualty (TV)”).
This leads to him swearing off violence, particularly guns, however, every episode features him, and his mates, in some kind of predicament that requires violence, often guns, to get out of. On the one hand I’m presuming this is a ‘he can’t escape his past’ metaphor, but it seems a strange choice as, take away the violence, and there’s very little to Pennyworth.
In this alternative London there are two rival factions, The Raven Society, a sort of right-wing, god loving group, and the No Name League, a left-leaning group, in the UK these would be extreme versions of the Conservatives and Labour.
At the head of the Raven Society is Lord Harwood, Jason Flemyng (“SS-GB (TV)”, “Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels”), who never gets his hands dirty, relying instead on his assistant Bet Sykes, Paloma Faith (“Youth“, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”). The No Name League leaders are anonymous, until later in the series at least.
Alfie’s introduction to the No Name League comes via Martha Kane, Emma Paetz (“Gentleman Jack (TV)”, “Press (TV)”), an American who acts as intermediary between Alfie and the League for various jobs which form the basis of most episodes.
You are probably wondering where the Wayne’s come into all this? Well, we are introduced to Thomas Wayne, Ben Aldridge (“Fleabag (TV)”, “Our Girl (TV)”), early on as a financial investigator who claims to have uncovered something big.
He approaches Alfie for help, Alfie having started his own private security business at this stage, but Alfie doesn’t trust him, believing him to be CIA. This ‘on/off’ relationship continues throughout, though obviously you know how it ends, so it’s just a bit frustrating.
Pennyworth isn’t a bad series per-say, but, in today’s world of TV choice, things needs to happen, we need to be engaged with the characters, backstory helps. With Pennyworth I found myself not caring about anyone, good or bad, in fact the only person I wanted to see more of was John Ripper, Danny Webb (“Humans (TV)”, “Alien 3”), the most interesting character.
Ripper is the head-honcho bad guy of the East End of London, the sort of person everyone is scared of, except Alfie obviously. We’re guessing Ripper is meant to be a take on the famous Jack The Ripper.
There’s a lot of this in Pennyworth, an early episode features a computer creator, wanted by the British Government for homosexuality, who the No Name League, and Alfie, help out.
With these episodes, the early ones, Pennyworth works as a sort of period James Bond esq actioner, though it’s an odd period and there’s not always a great deal of action.
The later episodes however, they start to get very odd indeed. Martha attends a party hosted by Aleister Crowley, Jonjo O’Neill (“The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (TV)“, “The Fall (TV)”), who is in league with the devil. What Crowley wants is Thomas Wayne’s soul for his boss. Yes, exactly, this comes completely out of the blue and suddenly Pennyworth takes an odd turn to the supernatural, even more so when a witch, played by the ever wonderful Felicity Kendal (“The Good Life (TV)”, “Rosemary & Thyme (TV)”), turns up.
We were sent the first seven episodes of Pennyworth and I’m unsure if we’d continue to watch it. It’s all a bit samey and, whilst the idea of seeing Alfred’s backstory is a good one, I’m not sure this series does it justice.
Originally published at www.ocmoviereviews.com on September 22, 2019.