It’s always been a bit of a mystery as to how Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), came into the Waynes’ life – but with a varying set of skills to his name and cheeky smile to accompany them, it’s always clear that the story was good. So, thankfully, we have Pennyworth.
Taking place during an alternative Sixties, Alfred (or Alfie as he’s known – of course!) is a young man just back from years at war as part of the special elite unit of the SAS. Now he’s back, Alfie wants to turn his life around and step away from violence… but unfortunately, violence always has a way of finding him.
After meeting a certain Thomas Wayne at a nightclub where he’s working as a bouncer (while raising funds to support his private security business), Alfie is thrust into a world of government corruption, West End gangsters, and a battle between fascists and socialists to overthrow the country.
It’s this war that is the focus of the series and Alfie finds that his aptitude for violence will play a central role in it, whether he likes it or not. When Alfie unwittingly comes up against the fascist leader and horrifically disfigured Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng) and his hired hand/part-time dominatrix Bet Sykes (played brilliantly by Paloma Faith with a delicate mix of vulnerability and extreme brutality), he ends up stepping out of one war and into another.
There have been varying successes and failures of Batman series but Pennyworth most definitely sits in the former. Quite surprisingly, this series grabs you from the off – depicting a fascinating Black Mirror version of London (all blimps and public hangings) and a band of interesting and charming characters.
Banon successfully holds the series on his shoulders, playing a conflicted Alfie who wants to free himself from the vicious hand that’s been dealt to him. He’s desperate to set up a stable home for his girlfriend Esme (Emma Corrin) but is simply unable to escape the lure and rewards of his skill set. Along with his SAS buddies Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) and Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett), the three of them are unable (or unwilling) to successfully navigate away from their violent pasts.
Alfie’s lack of options is faintly echoed in the series’ wider societal context (it’s telling that for all of Alfie’s bravado of “being his own man” his dad – Ian Puleston-Davies – is a butler) of class and idealism. This isn’t overly developed within the series but it could potentially make an interesting plot layer should the powers that be decide to go down this route further.
Developed by Gotham’s, Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, Pennyworth doesn’t fall within the prequel trap of existing purely to set up characters for the main event.
Though it gives the lightest of touches upon Batman canon (we couldn’t help but enjoy the Michael Caine nods throughout), Pennyworth is largely its own thing and it’s better for it. With characters straight from a Guy Richie film and the vibe of a classic British spy adventure, Pennyworth has found its own unique corner of the Batman world, and we’re looking forward to exploring those dirty London streets more.
Pennyworth is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.