Batman Prequel 'Pennyworth' Goes to an Alternate ‘60s, Takes a Cue from Christopher Nolan Films [TCA 2019]February 11, 2019
The creators of Gotham are going even further back into the Batman legend with their Epix series Pennyworth. We’ve already learned how the origin story of Alfred Pennyworth will show how a young Alfred (Jack Bannon) met Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) in 1960s London and ends up battling the descendants of Jack the Ripper. Now we have a few more details.
Pennyworth creators Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon were on a Television Critics Association panel this weekend for Pennyworth along with cast members where they talked about taking a key cue from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, their alternate 1960s setting, and something you might not know about Bruce Wayne’s future butler.
Michael Caine Gave Them An In
It was Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that introduced the idea that Aflred was an SAS soldier in his youth. Pennyworth will show Alfred’s military service, thus explaining his fighting skills for the duration of the series.
“We owe a debt to Michael Caine for making him an SAS soldier in the first place,” Heller said. “It’s really a chance to make him the center of a story, explain that journey. How did he get from being a young SAS soldier to being a butler in America?”
After his tour of duty, Alfred gets involved with Thomas Wayne, driving for him and eventually fighting villains of the British ‘60s. That sort of backstory turns Alfred into an action hero himself. It may seem like a stretch, and in fact Alfred: The Movie was a joke in last summer’s Teen Titans GO! To the Movies. So it will be up to Heller and Cannon to sell us on it, but Heller makes a good point. Alfred is only a supporting character because all the stories have been told about Batman.
“In his own life he’s not a sidekick,” Heller said. “It’s a bit like Rosencranz & Guildenstern are Dead.”
For a bit of trivia, Commissioner Gordon actor Gary Oldman also played Rosencranz in the Hamlet spinoff.
This Ain’t Your Father’s 1960s
London in the 1960s has been well documented, both by real life historians and movies recreating the era. Real history gives Pennyworth a good starting point. Cannon explained:
“I don’t think there’s a better period in London than the early ‘60s. After the war, things change for good. You can see the change in the air, culturally, artistically. It was an inspiring time I think English people always revisit. To say that was the foundation we were starting with and maintain 13 degrees more DC, 13 degrees darker, then it really came alive for us.”
From there, Pennyworth does its own take on the ‘60s, sort of how Inglourious Basterds told Tarantino’s version of World War II, in which his heroes could change the course of history. For example, The Queen of England is a character in Pennyworth, but it’s not Queen Elizabeth II. Heller adds
“This is very much an alternative universe. It’s not England in the 1960s as we remember it.”
An alternate ‘60s adds a potentially more interesting element to Pennyworth than young Alfred himself. It doesn’t sound like Heller is going to go full Tarantino with this. He’s just allowing himself the freedom to tell their own story, even if it has to contradict history. Still, let’s look for some anachronistic historical Easter Eggs!
Alfred Rejects The Family Business
Let’s be honest. “How did Alfred become a Butler” was never one of the burning questions of the Batman universe, although if Heller didn’t do it first, it’s likely one of the DCEU movies would have. As long as we’re doing Alfred, Heller does have a backstory that can take several seasons to play out.
“He’s a young man who’s father was a butler and his father wanted him to be a butler,” Heller said. “It’s the last thing that Aflred wants to do. Essentially this is the journey of someone discovering that everyone has to serve someone somehow.”
Every career path should have an inspiring drama told about them, and frankly it’s long past time for butlers to get the attention they deserve! Seriously though, since it’s inevitable that Alfred becomes the Wayne family butler, they sort of have to treat it with a level of resistance to create drama.
“So much of the world that Gotham was is what we’ve done here,” Cannon said. “It’s as much a story about how the world is different back then and how the world will change in order to create what comes after it. Why does he go to America? Why does he end up in Gotham? Why does he serve Thomas Wayne the way he does? Why does he end up a mentor to the greatest hero of all time?”
Epix will premiere Pennyworth this summer.
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