Pennyworth: Alfred Origin Story is Worth a Watch

(EPIX.)

By Trixie Pacis | 30 Sep 2019 at 12:00pm

Some will argue that an origin series about Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth is taking the whole origin story thing too far. But those who have experienced Pennyworth’s explosive start might make a case for its inclusion in the Batman universe.

The new Batman prequel series comes from Gotham team Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon. 

What is Pennyworth about?

Pennyworth is a DC origin series from Epix following Batman’s Butler’s early days. Alfred Pennyworth (played convincingly by Jack Bannon) is a former SAS soldier desperate to start his own security company in 1960s London. Alfred is finished with the army and seeking a more peaceful life. He plans to start his own security service, which begins by working as a night club bouncer.  But stars align and his natural gifts land him in the crosshairs of conspiracy and revolution. 

England is on the verge of a major upheaval. Change comes from two opposing underground forces, the Raven Society and the No Names. Both are working to overthrow the government but where the Raven Society pushes a Fascist agenda, the No Names envision a Socialist utopia.

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Alfred is merely trying to become a self-made man and be worthy of his upper-class girlfriend Esme (Emma Corrin), a dancer and actress. Alfred meets her the same night he crosses paths with Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas (Ben Aldridge), known across the pond as The Yank. Alfie helps Thomas escort his sister out of the nightclub and they swap business cards. This simple exchange eventually sees Alfred entangled in the conflict-at-large.

After a touch-and-go start, Alfred eventually gets to work with Thomas Wayne (who has yet to become Bruce’s father).

A depart from Gotham

Where Gotham provides the origin story of Jim Gordon (and to a lesser extent, Bruce Wayne before he becomes Batman), Pennyworth zeroes in on the loyal Alfred. This highly stylized series is gritty and noirish, a perfect fit for its subject and setting. Though Pennyworth shows a departure from Gotham’s wild, cartoonish nature, it still features glimpses of its comic book origins.

Another key difference is the sense of realism created by 1960s London (as opposed to the fictional American city of Gotham). Cannon and Heller use Pennyworth as an opportunity to portray spy stories in a swinging sixties London to great effect. The series brilliantly depicts London that’s at once a nostalgic, bygone place and a fantastical, post-apocalyptic world. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Pennyworth feels deeply British, making multiple references to Downing Street and cups of tea in the first episode alone.

Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) and Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge). (EPIX.)
Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) and Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge). (EPIX.)

Is Pennyworth worth a watch?

*Warning: Episode 1 review and spoilers ahead.

Based on Episode 1, we say give it a shot. Though style may ultimately outshine substance, the first episode confirms that Pennyworth has many elements working for it. 

Bannon (Ripper Street, The Imitation Game) impresses in the role of charismatic Alfie. He strikes the right balance between sweetness and swagger. Bannon even channels a young Michael Caine to a tee, simultaneously allowing fans to see the connection whilst peeling back the years of refinement to discover a new, badass young Alfred. 

Supporting characters get the job done too. Alfie’s SAS friends Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett of Eastenders) and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher of Outlander) give underwhelming first impressions as they talk about the war and the loss of their comrade. But they also provide beats of comedic relief and prove themselves as ride or die companions through the episode’s action-packed finish. They also counterbalance the strong female characters of the series. 

Love interest Esme Winikus and henchman Bet Sykes portray complicated women in this Swinging Sixties setting. Esme (Emma Corrin, The Crown) can come across as old-fashioned (she dumps Alfred in fear of class differences and instability) yet contemporary (she’s a struggling actress who pays the bills as a nightclub dancer) all at once. 

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Even more interesting is Bet Sykes. British singer Paloma Faith brings an engaging performance to the role, particularly when Bet becomes vengeful. She seeks revenge for the embarrassment caused by Esme’s escape attempt (despite her kidnapping Esme in the first place). The scene hints at a compelling character backstory. Even smaller supporting characters show some grit and backbone — just wait until Alfie’s mum gets a piece of the action. 

The opening episode certainly leaves viewers wanting. The Alfred and Thomas partnership has yet to be solidified, suggesting there is a long road (and plenty of action) ahead. Furthermore, major characters like Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), Bruce’s future mother, have yet to enter the picture. These are just a few of the things compelling viewers to keep watching.

Plus, there’s the assurance of production value. In addition to standout talent, Cannon and Heller use their budget and available tools to bring their vision to fruition. Episode one boasts stunning sets, convincing wardrobe, smooth cinematography, and suspenseful sound.

But will the plot crescendo or fall flat through the series’ 10 episodes? And should the plot falter, will charisma and atmosphere be enough to keep viewers hooked? We’ll have to watch more to find out.

How to watch

Pennyworth premiered on Starzplay on October 25th. It is now exclusively available to UK viewers on Starzplay, the subscription service linked to Amazon Prime Video.

It’s worth mentioning that all episodes are now available — cue binge watch.

Stay tuned for updates and official news about Pennyworth Season 2.


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