Since the first announcements that work was beginning on a Batman prequel series based around Alfred, there has been a lot of head-scratching as to what exactly this series would be. What I can say with a fair amount of certainty is that what we ended up with is not what any of us envisioned.
Pennyworth is set in an alternate 1960s London where criminals are still put on public display in stockades, and airships traverse the skies. We meet Alfred “Alfie” Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) after he has left the British SAS and is working as a doorman and bouncer at a club while he tries to get his private security firm on its feet. We are quickly introduced to the cast of characters that populate his world from his old Army pals Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennet) & Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher), to his new girlfriend, Esme (Emma Corrin).
While Alfred has his allies, we also quickly learn that this version of England has two warring factions fighting over ideology: The Raven Society and The No Name League. Both are equally bad in their own ways and both want to take control of the country. Through a number of small occurrences, Alfie finds himself and all he holds dear caught in the middle of this coming war between the England he once fought for, and those that feel they know what’s best for the future.
Pennyworth is very much its own series, and that’s a good thing
Epix was kind enough to provide us with the first five episodes of the series, and we watched all of them before writing this review. We have to say that the connections to anything you know about these characters from the perspective of a Batman fan is fairly useless. Yes, there is someone named Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) in the series, but he is nothing like you know of the character. The same goes for Martha Kane (Emma Paetz). The only part of this show that feels like anything connected to the Bat-Family is if you view this as an origin story for the version of Alfred played by Sean Pertwee on Gotham, and even then it feels as though that is only because it is created by the same team of Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon.
If you approach Pennyworth as a Batman series, you’re probably going to be disappointed. If instead, you approach it as a 1960s-based action series in the vein of say The Avengers or The Prisoner with a dash of Guy Ritchie gangster movie sprinkled on top, then you’re going to love it.
It is also not a series you’re going to want to set your 5-year-old down to watch, either. There is swearing, nudity, and some truly gruesome moments throughout the episodes we reviewed.
Let me stress that again: This series has some very gruesome moments. We can’t even hint as to what they are because they’re plot points, but you will see some horror movie type moments to be sure.
Is Pennyworth worthy of your time?
If you’re on the fence about if this is worth watching, we definitely recommend it. View it as an Elseworlds story and don’t worry about what they get right or wrong from the Batman canon. The show is beautifully shot through a definite filter of grime and dirt, and it works well for the world these characters populate.
Bannon is a delight as Alfie, and someone you quickly grow to care about. He has demons to be sure, and you see through many different means just how haunted he is by his past. He brings an effortless charm to the role mixed with just as much frustration at his lot in life.
Everyone in the cast turns in great performances, but we would be remiss if we didn’t specifically call out Paloma Faith as Bet Sykes. She is the psychotic Batverse villain you want. She is equal parts loyal, insane, and annoyed with you before you even speak. You could easily see her becoming a minor player in the Rogues Gallery if she existed in the time of Batman, but, alas, that will never come to be.
Pennyworth occupies an odd spot in the Batman lore now, and as we said, just go in expecting an Elseworlds story and you should be fine. Enjoy the kitsch of this alt-history London and some wonderful acting performances and you won’t be disappointed.
Pennyworth debuts on Epix on July 28.