In the below-the-radar backstory of Batman’s butler, Pennyworth, Paloma Faith is a revelation as the mercurial, complicated and frankly terrifying Bet Sykes.
You’d be forgiven if you know little about Pennyworth hidden away on Epix in the States and Starzplay (which can be subscribed via Amazon Prime) in the UK – and may be surprised that it’s already on its second season.
The show, created by Gotham‘s Bruno Heller, focuses on the untold early years of Alfred Pennyworth, before we know him as the Wayne family butler in Gotham. Set in a gritty, alternate-history London in the 1960s, Pennyworth is a rather heady mix. Alfie Pennyworth (played by Jack Bannon as Ray Quinn channeling his best Michael Caine), a former SAS soldier, ducks and dives on either side of the law, sets up his own security company and oh yes, shags the Queen(!). American financial forensic analyst (and undercover CIA operator) Thomas Wayne and photojournalist (and spy) Martha Kane get embroiled in the two warring factions against the British government: the ultra-fascist Raven Society and the left-wing “No Name League”.
This dystopian Britain is awash with society societies, televised public executions, colourful gangsters, the occultist Aleister Crowley and a whole host of eccentric villains. If we tell you that The Good Life‘s Felicity Kendal makes a cameo as a witch so dangerous that she’s kept in a Hannibal Lector-style prison cell, you’ll realise that Pennyworth is anything but vanilla.
However, what really has caught The Recs’ eye is the standout performance by Paloma Faith of the murderous and frankly marvelous Bet Sykes.
“Sometimes you’re nice, sometimes you’re just mad” is a pithy character summary from, Katie Browning, Bet Sykes’ latest ‘pet’ in Season 2. Initially, we meet Bet as a violent enforcer for the Raven Society taking a riding whip to the foxhunting Lord Longbrass, despite bitching that it’s her day off, that she could be at home with her feet up and that there were road works all the way there!
What makes Bet so intimidating is that her behaviour is frequently unexpected. She’s just as likely to offer you a cup of tea as slash your throat. Her mood can completely transform in a split second and Paloma renders these emotional extremes effortlessly. The actress clarified in a recent interview: “So some days, when I’m doing really heinous things, awful things, I often imagine that I’m in an Alan Bennett play or an episode of Coronation Street. If I’m doing something quite mundane, then I need to go the opposite way and make it have flourishes or twitches, and make it a bit off”.
Paloma based this original character on an unusual amalgam: “I kind of made Bet a cross between Myra (Hindley) and this lady that used to work in the local Co-Op in Leeds”. Bet is that unnerving mixture of everyday regularity and extraordinary ultraviolence. Killing people is her job so she has become utterly desensitised to it. She is not some grinning villain. What makes her more chilling is that she is unaware of how dysfunctional her behaviour is.
Contrasting her erratic, brutal actions with a warm, homely Northern accent lends a unnerving sinister presence to Bet regardless what she is doing. Witness this intimidating encounter from the first episode!
So hunt out Pennyworth for a show that’s packed with style and ideas. We’ll wager you’ll be delighted to get acquainted with the unique, chilling, mesmerising Bet Sykes!