Hurrah! The craziest British drama on TV has been renewed! EPIX‘s Pennyworth will return next year with a new season!
Pennyworth is really a Batman prequel in name only. It appears to be about the story of Alfred Pennyworth in the 1960s long before he became the Wayne family butler. It appears to be about how he met Thomas and Martha Wayne. However, showrunner Bruno Heller makes the show its own animal. Apart from the over-the-top gothic-satirical take on the world, it doesn’t really have anything to do with Batman at all.
“Pennyworth”: An Alternate History Britain
The show is utterly barking mad. It’s set in an alternate universe 1960s London where WWII might have ended slightly differently. Thieves are displayed in stocks in public. Enemies of the state are still imprisoned in the Tower of London. Hangings are not only public but also broadcast live on television. A fascist organisation called the Raven Society plots a coup while a socialist called The No Name League opposes them.
Amidst this near-hysterical unrest stands ex-SAS soldier Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), who just wants to earn a living running a private security firm with his mates Dave Boy and Bazza. Alfie is a Cockney lad from a family in Service. His deeply conservative father thinks he should just go into Service as a butler. Alfie, freshly demobbed from fighting communist insurgents in Burma, is eager to taste the fruits of upward mobility in Sixties London. However, his skills as a soldier make him useful to the government, CIA agent Thomas Wayne and amateur spy Martha Kane who’s undercover in the No Name League. Alfie also runs afoul of Lord Harwood, the leader of the Raven Society who wants to take over the government.
Alfie, with Dave Boy and Bazza by his side, becomes an agent of Chaotic Good who often takes the law in his own hands to solve problems with his fists and his gun. The show follows a particularly British tradition of surreal satire with anti-establishment political commentary.
I watched the whole first season before I realised the show is an allegory for Brexit.
It Really Is About Brexit…
The mood of chaos and anxiety in the show is a funhouse mirror reflection of the mood in the UK right now. It takes a crazy show to comment on the craziness of Brexit, refracted through a nostalgic, distorted 1960s London. The ostensible themes of the show are the need for men to fight and survive under a chaotic, corrupt system, and the ongoing fight against fascism. The latter is particularly relevant now with the threat of fascism looming worldwide.
The subtext of the show is about Brexit dividing the people of Britain. The fascism and xenophobia of the Raven Society reflects the fascist and xenophobic tendencies of rabid Brexit supporters. Lord Harwood is like the Batman villain version of Nigel Farage. Alfie’s conflict with his pro-Raven father represents the generational divide between a younger progressive generation and their reactionary parents. It’s also an allegory for the split between young and old over Brexit.
The show is very British, full of gleeful ultraviolence and in-jokes only Brits would recognise. The gangster-ridden Sixties London is a dark nostalgic dream. Bet Sykes, the sociopathic gangster played by Paloma Faith, looks like notorious child-murderer Myra Hindley. Aleister Crowley shows up. The episode titles take on British female singers like Alma Cogan, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black and Marianne Faithful. The Queen never married Prince Philip and shags Alfie.
Pennyworth is the Brexit drama no British network would dare produce. It’s shamelessly pulp and loony, the best way to comment on how crazy and chaotic the UK feels right now. Only an American streaming service like EPIX could make it, and that’s paying off. The show is currently one of the most popular series on the service. Its renewal means we’re going to get more of Alfie Pennyworth, working class hero and his barking mad London.