Now Showing: In Pennyworth, Batman's Future Butler Is A Deadly Ex-Soldier
“We were encouraged from the beginning to think of it as a stand-alone thing,” says Jack Bannon, who stars as Alfred Pennyworth, a former British special forces operative who will become the butler of the Wayne family and serve as a father figure to the caped crusader. But Pennyworth, the show, promises to be much more than just a prequel to the Batman franchise. “I remember Bruno Heller, the show’s creator, saying this is a story about a young man who leaves the army and sets up a security business,” he tells Esquire Philippines. “The fact that his name is Alfred Pennyworth is by the by. We could almost go through the whole season telling the story and then, at the end, it gets revealed actually who this person is.”
Created by the writer of Gotham, which is a direct prequel to Batman’s story, Pennyworth does not feature Bruce Wayne or any of the other well-known characters from the franchise. Rather, it charts the relationship between the young Alfred and the American billionaire Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) during the 1960s. Bannon reveals there will be some Easter eggs and tributes to some of the characters and events in the Batman mythology, but he also adds you don’t have to be a Batman fan in order to enjoy this show.
Pennyworth depicts a coming-of-age journey. We all know that he grows up to become the mentor to the caped crusader and this show charts his growth from a boy to a man. “He is forced to grow up quite quickly. He experiences love and loss and heartache and people double-crossing him; he has to wise up pretty quick,” says Bannon. “I almost felt a physical kind of hardness to him. And by the end, he knows the only person he can trust is himself.”
In his preparation for the role, Bannon did not take the original Batman comics as his main source of inspiration. The British actor describes the show as a “character-driven drama,” rather than a comic-book hero spectacle with all the tights and capes. In the same way that last year’s Batman franchise origin story, Joker, gained critical acclaim as a deeply moving character portrait, Bannon sees his job as delivering the “the truth of the drama.”
While the character of Batman’s butler may not be as complicated and disturbed as the Joker, arguably one of the most complex comic-book villains to portray, the world of Pennyworth is imbued with a similar sense of chaos and madness. The story follows a young SAS soldier who has left the violence of army life and seeks a calm, peaceful existence at home. But he is then embroiled in a series of conspiracies as he works with Thomas Wayne and his associates to stop a mysterious villainous organization from toppling the British government.
The setting is heavily stylized, with heavy color-editing to evoke a strange and eerie mood. Just as the aesthetic of Gotham City is a dark and fantastical reimagining of New York, so is the atmosphere of Pennyworth a gritty, distorted vision of East London in the '60s. The setting is an alternative interpretation that portrays a world of political turmoil and romanticized brutality as Alfred’s missions with Thomas Wayne lead him into a web of conspiracies and the criminal underbelly of the city.
Bannon has some big shoes to fill as he follows in the footsteps of celebrated actors who have portrayed Alfred in recent years, such as Michael Caine and Jeremy Irons. But seeing as the show’s creators have declared their intention to step out from the shadow of previous incarnations of Wayne family butler, Bannon has free rein to interpret the character with his own brand of heroism and masculinity. We all know what he will become, but here we get to witness his journey as he develops into Bruce Wayne’s moral guide.
Pennyworth shows every Monday at 9 p.m. on Warner TV.