You may scoff that you have no interest in who the Batman comics’ Alfred was before he became the Wayne family butler. But are you interested in a handsomely produced, espionage-tinged drama set in 1960s London?
Premiering Sunday, July 28 at 9/8c on EPIX, Pennyworth envisions the title character (played by Endeavour‘s Jack Bannon) as a former British SAS soldier who after serving his country now is angling to start up a security firm. But even that much backstory was fashioned from whole cloth, since “very little” about the character has been established in decades’ worth of DC Comics canon.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to tell this story,” executive producer/writer Danny Cannon tells TVLine in the Comic-Con video Q&A above. “[We’re not] tied down by all the strings and elements that have already been established” about the Dark Knight and his well-explored world.
Sparking the idea of Alfred as a man with a particular set of skills was the actor who played him on the big screen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and its sequels. “Michael Caine insisted that Pennyworth was an ex-SAS soldier,” Cannon says, “so there was a story there: How does he become a butler in America?”
A stranger named Thomas Wayne (Reign‘s Ben Aldridge) sets that journey in motion. “Intrigued” by Alfred, Thomas solicits the young man’s help in “navigating this dark, macabre London,” says Aldridge. To Alfred, Bannon says, “it all sounds a bit too good to be true,” being retained by this wealthy American. “But he can’t really say no,” so he lets himself be pulled back into a dangerous lifestyle from which he’d hoped to escape.
Among Pennyworth‘s antagonists, recording artist Paloma Faith plays Bet Sykes, a sadistic, sharp-tongued woman working in service of a mysterious organization. “Men fear scary women, don’t they, because they think they’re mothers,” Faith smiles. “In the ’60s, women were culturally and socially supposed to stay at home, and what I like about this is that Martha Kane, Bet Sykes and Esme (Alfred’s girlfriend, played by Emma Corrin) are quite empowered, and they’re almost more scary [because of that].”
Yes, Martha Kane (Gentleman Jack‘s Emma Paetz) does turn up, and though “it’s definitely not a ‘love at first sight’ vibe at all,” Aldridge chuckles, their romance is of course destined. In fact, the EPs promise that Pennyworth will cover the actual conception of he who will one day become Batman — though it will stop short, Cannon laughs, of showing us a “wiggly sperm with bat ears and a cape.”