Cursed review: Katherine Langford leads Netflix’s fresh take on the Arthurian legend

Shunned by her own village, even her father, who believe Nimue is a witch, Cursed traces her journey from a self-loathing outcast to a confident leader.

Devki Nehra July 20, 2020 16:03:18 IST
Cursed review: Katherine Langford leads Netflix’s fresh take on the Arthurian legend

The legend of King Arthur has been memorialised onscreen far too often — whether its Disney’s Sword in the Stone (1963) or Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) or the BBC show Merlin (2008-2012), to name a few. Netflix's show Cursed, based on artist Frank Miller and screenwriter's Tom Wheeler's young adult (YA) graphic novel, is the latest iteration of the story.

Whether or not King Arthur existed is still up for debate among scholars, as the saga has been retold and reinvented over centuries. It was only after Geoffrey of Monmouth chronicled the story of Arthur in The Historia Regum Britanniae, did the figure gain popular interest. LA Times notes that the central themes of Arthur’s story have more or less remained consistent — how he pulled out the Excalibur sword from a stone and acquired the throne; how Merlin the Magician was his right-hand man; his knight's quest for the Holy Grail; and his marriage to Guinevere.

Cursed, told from the perspective of Nimue (Katherine Langford of Knives Out and 13 Reasons Why) — fated to be the Lady of the Lake — brings to the table a fresh take. An Indian example that comes close is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which presents an interpretation of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective.

 

Cursed review Katherine Langford leads Netflixs fresh take on the Arthurian legend

Katherine Langford as Nimue in Cursed

Shunned by her own village, even her father, who believe Nimue is a witch, Cursed traces her journey from a self-loathing outcast to a confident leader.

Nimue belongs to the magical Fey community who are being brutally persecuted by crimson cloaked Red Paladins, religious zealots backed by the Catholic Church. After her village is attacked, her dying mother Lenore (Catherine Walker) tells her to deliver the Sword of Power to Merlin ( Vikings' Gustaf Skarsgård). This raises some questions — Why does the sword need to be entrusted in the hands of someone she does not even know? What is the importance of this weapon? Along the way she meets the handsome outlaw Arthur (Devon Tyrell), a potential romantic interest, who helps her fulfil this mission.

Cursed review Katherine Langford leads Netflixs fresh take on the Arthurian legend

Gustaf Skarsgård as Merlin

Langford, who is Australian, speaks in a terrible British accent, which may or not grow on you. However, the actor effortlessly portrays Nimue's vulnerability, her resolve to carry out her mother's last wish and to protect her people from harm.

The plot and sub plots can be slightly confusing, with so many new characters popping up in every other episode. Some characters, when they first make an appearance, are not even introduced. Maybe it escaped my attention, but I had no idea what King Uther's name was for a while.

The cinematography captures the lushness of the forests and landscape, the brightness of the sky and all different magical fey creatures (note the opening sequence and the caves where the fey seek refuge). The illustrated transition sequences recall thw show's graphic novel inspiration.

Cursed review Katherine Langford leads Netflixs fresh take on the Arthurian legend

Lily Newmark plays Pym

Cursed is different for not only giving the lore a new spin with a strong female protagonist, but also for making the supporting characters delightful. Lily Newmark (Sex Education) captivates as Nimou's supportive and quirky best friend Pym. Infatuated by a Viking, she boards his ship and is appointed as their healer. I'm pretty sure I want a spinoff or an origin story featuring just Pym. Merlin is not a pointed hat wearing, wizened Druid, but an alcoholic whose magical abilities have waned (but not his cunning). Sister Igraine (Shalom Brune-Franklin) is a kind-hearted rescuer of the persecuted, a rebellious nun in love with Sister Celia (Sophia Harkness).

Like many films and TV shows designed for a YA audience, this one too has a social message, but without being too in your face. Cursed, subtly intersperses the ideas of tolerance and accepting diversity; relevant messaging especially in the current worldwide political scenario. In addition to this, the show has a divergent non-white cast in roles that were conventionally reserved for white actors.

I must add that no prior knowledge of the legend is needed to watch/enjoy this show as the creators have taken many creative liberties. Cursed is one of the better newer fantasy shows, certainly besting Netflix's The Letter for the King. Drawing comparisons with Game of Thrones is silly, because some shows (despite their unfavourable final season) can never be outdone.

(All images from Twitter)

Cursed is now streaming in English and Hindi on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:

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