Synopsis: Armed with mysterious powers and a legendary sword, young rebel Nimue joins forces with charming mercenary Arthur on a mission to save her people. Over the course of her journey, Nimue will become a symbol of courage and rebellion against the terrifying Red Paladins, and their complicit King Uther.
Format: 10 episodes, streaming on Netflix, from Friday, July 17th.
Cast: Katherine Langford, Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Daniel Sharman, Sebastian Armesto, Matt Stokoe, Lily Newmark, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Emily Coates, Billy Jenkins, Bella Dayne, Peter Mullan, Polly Walker,
Directors: Zetna Fuentes (1-2), Daniel Nettheim (3-5), Jon East (6-8), Sarah Gorman (9-10)
Writers: Tom Wheeler (1 -2, 9-10, Based on the Book by), Frank Miller (Based on the Book by), Janet Lin (3), Rachel Shukert (4), Leila Gerstein (5), William Wheeler (6-7), Robbie Thompson (8)
The Arthurian Legend has been a constant inspiration for movies and TV with recent adaptations like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Kid Who Would Be King and the upcoming The Green Knight. The basic story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table should be known to most, a story that Cursed retells with a fantasy twist and a more YA audience in mind.
In this re-imagination of the Arthurian legend, the story follows Nimue (Katherine Langford), a young woman with a mysterious gift who is destined to become the powerful Lady of the Lake. An outcast in her village due to her uncontrollable magical abilities, she soon finds herself on a quest to quest to deliver the fabled sword of power to the magician Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) after her village is attacked by the Red Paladins, a group of religious zealots whose sole goal is to rid the world of Fae, a varied race who may have tusks, tails, scales or just magical lineage, who are seen as an abomination before God. Nimue soon encounters a young mercenary named Arthur (Devon Terrell) and finds herself at the centre of a many-sided conflict for possession of the sword.
The lore and world of Cursed are deep, with many different factions and leaders at odds with each other. The Red Paladins are lead by Father Carden (Peter Mullan) and with his tracker/assassin, The Weeping Monk, they prove the main antagonists to Nimue and the Fae she encounters along her journey. King Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) currently sits on the throne but is more of a figurehead as he is puppeteered by his mother Lady Lunette (Polly Walker) while Lord Cumber (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), a Viking Lord, proclaims himself the rightful heir to the throne.
All these groups seek the sword of power to solidify their claims and to further their own goals. At times, the show feels like a lite or CW version of Game of Thrones, with so many people plotting against each other. When I reflect on Cursed through that lens, I can see many elements and parallels from Game of Thrones littered throughout this one, but that should be expected from a show that has add such huge success in the genre.
Katherine Langford is a strong protagonist who plays the slow corruption and temptation of using the sword well. Devon Terrell is very charming and has really good chemistry with Langford and seeing their relationship develop throughout the season was a highlight. Merlin was the stand out character to me, with this version the character magicless and getting by only by his wits and knowledge. After learning the Sword still exists, he plots to find a way to destroy it, playing everyone in pursuit of his own agenda which doesn’t always go to plan.
Emily Coates performance as Sister Iris, a young girl seeking to join the Red Paladins, is great and unsettling to watch even if she does suffer a brief and sudden bout of insanity and finds herself in the background. Daniel Sharman role as the Weeping Monk is a slow burn but worth the wait while Matt Stokoe as Gawain the Green Knight, Lily Newmark as Pym, Shalom Brune-Franklin as Igraine and Billy Jenkins as Squirrel are other noteworthy performances and roles.
The CGI in this show is rough, to say the least. Clearly the show was not given enough time or money to get the CGI to the level we’ve seen in other Netflix shows. One particular scene in the first episode stands out as below the standard we’ve come to expect. Nimue is being chased by a pack of Wolves (all CGI) in the rain (also CGI) and soon finds herself having to use the sword to protect herself. The way in which the wolves broke the illusion of the scene and undercut the tone the scene was going for. Whoever was doing the blood splatter effects on the show clearly went all out because they were frequently a bit over the top. Some of the CGI and depictions of magic are charming with one particular instance evocative of Mortal Kombat (you’ll understand the reference when you see it). I would really like to see the Corridor Crew react to the VFX in this show.
The CGI isn’t helped by the excellent practical and makeup effects used on the various types of Fae and members of the underworld. The locations all look really great which makes the CGI elements all the more noticeable. The action sequences in Cursed are fine but unmemorable for the most part. Only one scene with Nimue taking out a number of Red Paladins in a lake really left an impression with me while any fight with the Weeping Monk tended to be higher quality.
The first episode is a hard one to get through, with Nimue letting you know several times that she is cursed (that’s the name of the show!), but the show works itself into a nice groove as the world around Nimue gets fleshed out. The show does start to feel very dense by the time the last episode rolls around and it goes a little off the rails with a vast number of betrayals and some oddly edited scenes.