Cursed review: All sword and no trousers

Reviews, TV

Though spins on the Arthurian legend are pretty commonplace these days, Cursed (based on the book written by Tom Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller, who are also co-creators of the show) has the promise of being a little different with its focus on the character of Nimue (Katherine Langford) rather than that of Arthur (Devon Terrell).

However, the show is still set in Medieval England with the legendary characters still present and correct: Arthur – check; Merlin – a drunkard but yes; Excalibur – pointy and present; kings, knights, nefarious politics and religion – yep, yep and yep; gruff pirates – what? Er… check!

Destined, we’re told, to become the Lady Of The Lake, in Cursed it is Nimue who comes into possession of the legendary sword Excalibur after religious zealots known as the Red Paladins ransack her village and kill her mother, who tells Nimue to take the sword to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård). This leads on to a chain of events that put her in the path of numerous enemies (whining King Uther and the cruel Ice King) and allies (potential love interest, Arthur and helpful convent nun, Igraine).

After a good set up that truly focuses on Nimue, her abilities and why they mark her out for ridicule in a superstitious village, as well as the introduction of the genuinely sinister leader of the Red Paladins (Peter Mullan), the series stalls a little in the middle, seemingly struggling to come up with something new. It gets rather formulaic at this point – Nimue runs from Paladins, Paladins find her, Nimue runs off again… It’s not until we’re embedded in the world of the fey rather than that of the humans that we get a proper sense of scope and wonder. In fact, perhaps more emphasis on the fey as a minority culture and the history of their persecution could have been interesting?

Not to worry though, before your mind will wander too far, a visually stunning set-piece or ferocious battle will take place that will snap you right back into focus. This is because Cursed looks incredible – full of amazing colours, epic battles and immense woodland and medieval sets. The stunts, too, are brilliant, especially with Nimue wielding the sword (a scene involving wolves particularly stands out).

There are also some interesting characters – Mullan plays his character with a genuine ferocity and Terrell and Shalom Brune-Franklin (who plays Igraine) are both earnest and likeable. But far too many characters are one-dimensional, fitting into a pre-cut mould of medieval check-box players. Also, the main villains just aren’t complex enough and lose their threatening hold over viewers after just a few episodes – though the sinister Ice King (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) in his lair of stolen treasures and nasty creatures gave us a chill or two…

Nimue, too, can be slightly frustrating. She is most definitely a leader but her fixation on not wanting to be different, on her parentage and on her job of delivering the sword means she doesn’t quite live up to her full potential. You just want her to step back and see the bigger picture but she’s too single-focussed on trivial matters. Happily, she usually manages to save herself rather than waiting to be rescued but we couldn’t help but see snippets of the ‘crazy woman’ trope in her and if she goes down the GoT Daenerys route, we’re not going to be happy.

That’s not to take anything from Katherine Langford, who completely sells the character and holds the series well, creating a charming and intimidating protagonist in a show that has a lot going on.

Cursed has some compelling elements over its ten episodes, allowing the opportunity to see characters we all know so well in a new light. But that spin just isn’t different enough for this to be a stand-out Arthurian tale. Also, with so many characters surrounding so many plot points, too few of them are in-depth enough to keep you overly interested. However, Cursed is an enjoyable and good-looking show, with plenty of engaging themes and enough action to keep you watching.

Cursed is out now on Netflix. Read our interview with Arthur himself Devon Terrell here.

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