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17 July 2020 18:32

Cursed

Cursed, Netflix review: yet another fantasy that doesn’t live up to Game of Thrones

This is the expensively made, atrociously written, chaotic, borderline-barmy tale – adapted from a 2019 book by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller – of Nimue (13 Reasons Why's Katherine Langford). Nimue's dying mother hands her an ancient sword with instructions to take it to a man called Merlin. "Do you suppose," wonders Nimue later, when she has taken up with a young knight on the road, called Arthur (who is very taken with this sword – like, really, really rates it, you know?), "she meant the magician Merlin? Yet other than its visual style, Netflix's "Cursed" represents a pale addition to that mythology, approaching the story from the perspective of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, without yielding many dramatic ripples. Adapted by Tom Wheeler (creator of the comics-flavored series "The Cape") from his book with comics-artist-turned-filmmaker Frank Miller, the series handsomely features the expected trappings--bloody battles, wizardly magic and a heroic quest--but puts them together in a fairly tiresome way.

In another marketable Netflix tie-in, the series stars Katherine Langford of "13 Reasons Why" as the aforementioned Nimue, who is bequeathed a magical sword by her mother after a bloody assault on their village. Along the perilous journey, she meets a young soldier of fortune named Arthur (Devon Terrell), at first a somewhat grudging ally; and must dodge an assortment of perils, among them an order of Red Paladins led by the ruthless Father Carden ("Ozark's" Peter Mullan). After escaping into The Witcher and Letter For The King, subscribers seeking refuge can now journey into a brand new series called Cursed which flips the tale of King Arthur on its head. Based on the book by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, Cursed pushes Arthur aside to focus primarily on Nimue instead. The Lady of the Lake was a minor character in legends of old, but here she's pushed to the forefront, subverting expectations with a more progressive take on Ye Olde English folklore.

To achieve that, Netflix will need to renew Cursed for a second season. Arthurian England is a pretty dangerous place, but some cast members we're confident will return in Cursed season two include: However, magic is commonplace in this world, and it wouldn't take much to bring the Lady of the Lake back to full health in season two. In the final episode of season one, things don't go too smoothly for Nimue. Desperate to protect her father, Merlin, Nimue takes a bunch of arrows for him and then collapses off a bridge, falling into the river below. Despite his wounds, Merlin summons enough rage to wield Nimue's sword and kill the Red Paladins who arrive to finish him off for good.

In the final moments of the episode, the villainous Weeping Monk is revealed to be none other than Lancelot of Arthurian legend, and Squirrel turns out to be Percival. Both of them eventually become Knights of the Round Table in lore, which suggests they'll soon join Arthur's crusade in season two. The Fey still need protection, so don't be surprised if Langford's character rises out fo the lake, born anew in season two. Cursed season 2 trailer: When can we see a Netflix promo? Production hasn't started yet on a second season, so in the meantime, rewatch The Witcher on Netflix and then check out one of the many terrible King Arthur movies available online.

Cursed season one is now available to watch on Netflix. The latest attempt is Cursed (Netflix) – the streaming service's heavily hyped summer launch, based on the bestselling graphic novel by screenwriter Tom Wheeler and comic book veteran Frank Miller. It's an ambitious 10-part reimagining of the Arthurian legend, full of magic, folklore and blood-spattered battles. The sprawling story is told through the eyes of Nimue (Katherine Langford, seconded from Netflix stablemate 13 Reasons Why), a young woman with mysterious gifts who is destined to become the powerful-but-tragic Lady of the Lake. When her priestess mother Lenore (Catherine Walker) makes a dying wish, Nimue (pronounced "Nim-way") sets out on a quest to deliver an ancient sword to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) – "you know, the wizard from the stories".

Nimue soon finds a sidekick-cum-love interest in dashing mercenary Arthur (Devon Terrell) and becomes a rabble-rousing symbol of resistance for the magical Fae people against the crusading Red Paladins and their complicit king Uther Pendragon (slippery Sebastian Armesto). The Lady of the Lake may be the most mysterious figure in King Arthur's lore. Her level of involvement in the Arthurian story varies from version to version: sometimes she kidnaps Merlin, sometimes she marries one of the knights, sometimes she doesn't appear past her initial role. The only constant is that she hands the magic sword Excalibur to Arthur, taking a small role in his overall story. Cursed, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler (who also serve as showrunners), sets out to give the enigmatic enchantress agency and a story of her own, turning her from a one-note hero into a complicated, powerful character. Miller and Wheeler struggle a bit in building the world even in 10 hour-long episodes, and vacillate about how much Arthurian lore they want their audience to know. But with Cursed, they manage to give their heroine a satisfying arc from outcast to leader, while infusing more life into other Arthurian stock characters, like the minor knights and the enchantress Morgana. Cursed follows the Lady of the Lake when she's still known as Nimue. She's a powerful young woman, but her village rejects her, fearing her connection to the magical spirits of the forest, known as the Hidden. Nimue (Katherine Langford, from 13 Reasons Why and Knives Out) is entrusted with the Sword of Power after the genocidal Red Paladins kill her mother. Sent from the Catholic Church, the Paladins seek to destroy all the Fey. Nimue's mother tells her to get the sword to Merlin, so with the help of handsome mercenary Arthur (Devvon Terrell), she sets forth. There are many more elements at work beyond Nimue's quest: Viking hordes from the north threaten King Uther's power, and the animosity humans feel toward the Fey continues to heighten as the Red Paladins' power grows. But Miller and Wheeler don't do much groundwork to establish who the Fey are before we learn the Red Paladins are out to slaughter them all. The world-building really slogs when Merlin is off meeting with magical figures across dimensions. Mythical characters and magical elements don't need to be explained in heavy-handed "As you know…" speeches, but when it comes to Merlin's storyline, the creators don't seem to understand that there's a middle ground between overly didactic explanations and dropping Merlin in the middle of an alternate dimension that never gets a name, where he talks to a little-known mythological figure who gets no backstory. Cursed doesn't require an extensive knowledge of Arthurian legend, though being familiar with some of the names that crop up here will make certain revelations more satisfying. Knowing that Nimue will eventually become the Lady of the Lake makes her story more tragic, especially knowing that Arthur is destined to take the sword she wields and rise without her. But knowing the stories of some of the knights and other characters might detract from their new roles, or make them more narratively frustrating. Clunky world-building aside, the best parts of the show don't come from epic battles, political intrigue, or powerful magic, but from its character arcs. After the first episode introduces the major players, the show tends to split between Nimue, Arthur, and Merlin. While Merlin's screen time has more to do with the overarching political powers at play, Nimue and Arthur's home in on their personal and emotional journeys. At the beginning, Arthur has the more satisfying story, and he's certainly a scene-stealer. Then the series pivots to Arthur proving that a human can be a champion for the Fey, setting the scene for his eventual destiny. She starts off as the village outcast, and her primary motivation for the first half of the series is to fulfill her mother's dying wish and get the sword to Merlin — something the audience knows is a bad idea, because we have the advantage of seeing Merlin's point of view. Throughout the show, however, she meets more Fey and learns more about the sword and her own powers. It's satisfying to see her grow from a timid young woman who just wants to leave her village to someone who stands up for her people, and that change comes at a believable pace. They turn the enigmatic woman of Arthurian legend into a compelling character, making her complicated and dynamic. Nimue's role in the legend of King Arthur might just be to give him a powerful sword, but in Cursed, she's the hero of her own story, and Arthur takes a secondary role.