Netflix’s latest fantasy release, written in tandem with the YA graphic novel of the same name, takes the age-old legends of King Arthur and Merlin, and retell them from the perspective of Nimue. A member of the persecuted Fey, she is forced to flee her village after a savage attack by the Red Paladins, and join forces with mercenary Arthur. With the Sword of Power in her possession and as a holder of mysterious yet devastating botanical powers that she is learning to control, she must embark on a personal and literal journey to protect her people and stand up for what is right in a corrupt kingdom.
There are few moments of respite in this high-octane story that takes us travelling through the forests and settlements of early Britain – when we are not witnessing gruesome slaughter and attacks by heartless paladins, we are privy to some heated, intense confrontations. Some pertinent themes are also intertwined with the plot: the futility of war, supremacy, religion, and the corruption of those in power.
Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite TV series of all time is BBC’s Merlin – every time someone mentions it, I feel a pang of nostalgia for it’s charm, humour and quality characters. So, I really wanted to love Cursed, and find a series that would take the tale that I had grown up watching in a different direction.
This series has an incredibly ambitious storyline; there are constant cuts to different characters, interspersed with beautiful illustrations, perhaps a homage to the graphic novel that this is based on. I really struggled to understand the relevance of the many side-plots scattered here and there, as they clouded the story and didn’t seem to relate to Nimue’s journey. Maybe, they’ll have greater significance in series two, but for now, they felt like they were slightly irrelevant. That being said, I particularly liked Pym’s (Nimue’s best friend) story, as she is probably the most entertaining character in the series.
There were too many elements in Cursed for my little brain to comprehend: I still don’t know where it’s set, which is a key detail. In the series, we see the following groups: the Trinity Guard, Red Paladins, Romans, Fey (with many groups amongst them), Viking raiders, the Pendragons, nuns, and the Lepers. Some more Vikings drop in at some point, but I couldn’t tell you want they wanted or why they were there, and there’s also this guy with tattoos on his face that sneaks around doing creepy things and a woman who wears a bird costume and can deliver messages by bird. I still don’t know who both individuals are, and neither IMDb nor Cursed’s Wiki page is giving me many answers. If there had been substantially fewer parties in the series, then I think it would have been easier for the audience to keep track of everyone’s motives and ideologies, both of which were not always clear.
Looking to some of the individual characters, there were definitely some highlights. Merlin was incredibly compelling and enigmatic, and was the focal point of any scene in which he appeared. Uther was the stereotypical tyrant, and as I mentioned before, I really liked Pym’s character, as well as Igraine/Morgana. I’m holding out for some big character development for Nimue and Arthur in the next series, because I felt they could be fleshed out a little more. The Weeping Monk really intrigued me, and has potential, while I wanted a little more backstory on the Green Knight aka Gawain. If some of the sub-plots had been cut away, then maybe there would be more space for character development and general explanation of what is going on.
Comparing series is difficult when the intended audiences are different and different stories are being told, but I think that BBC’s Merlin has a slight edge over Cursed. Why? It has strong character development, humour, and the aforementioned charm, but in all fairness, it’s had five series to build on the initial foundations laid in series one. Cursed has strong foundations, and I think if the plot is streamlined, more time is given to developing characters and more exposition, then I think the show could be a real winner. I will definitely be watching series two (if there is one), and I’ll be back with another review.
Is it worth watching? I would say yes, for the stand-out performances, salient themes and impressive battle scenes. Maybe keep a notebook handy, though!
Take Care, Al
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