Hello again, bibliophiles!
I don’t do many reviews of movies and TV shows here, but I figured that I would pour out some thoughts for this one. After reading Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller’s Cursed back in April (and loving it), I figured that I would give the Netflix adaptation a try, since I didn’t have much else to watch save for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which I’m steadily binging at the moment). I finished the show in about a week, and overall, I liked it–for the most part, a faithful adaptation, but at times, a forgettable one. I don’t regret watching it, but it’s nowhere near my favorite show.
In summary: Cursed is a 10-episode adaptation of Wheeler and Miller’s 2019 novel, a retelling of Arthurian legend before King Arthur pulled the sword from the stone. It follows Nimue (Katherine Langford), a Fey girl whose home has just been burned down by the Red Paladins, an army of monks bent on purging the Fey from Europe. Her mother’s dying wish was for her to deliver the Sword of Power to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), and Nimue, fueled by anger at the slaughter of her family and people, sets off to find the famed wizard. Joining forces with Arthur (Devon Terrell), she goes in search of Merlin, only to discover that the sword that she wields may have a darker power than she could have ever imagined.
Alright, folks…below, I’ll break down what I liked and didn’t like, so be prepared for quite a bit of rambling! This review/breakdown may contain some spoilers, so be warned.
- The opening title sequence and transitions: Absolutely GORGEOUS. The watercolor style was so detailed and beautiful, and it meshed so well with the general mood of the show.
- The instrumental score: I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: Jeff Russo can do no wrong. Though this score isn’t as notable as the ones he did for TV shows like FX’s Legion or Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, it was certainly a masterfully composed score, especially in the opening theme and some of the songs from the final two episodes.
- The sets/filming locations: Every single location that Cursed was filmed in was such a joy to take in. The forest setting made for countless beautiful shots, and even the more fabricated ones, especially in the Fey refugee camp of Nemos, did volumes in immersing the viewer into the story.
- Cast diversity: Kudos to Netflix for casting a variety of actors from all different backgrounds, from the protagonists to the side characters, for the show! There’s quite a few POC characters both at the forefront (ex. Arthur and Morgana) and in the background, so that was always good to see. There was some LGBTQ+ representation as well, which I’ve been going back and forth about. Morgana, one of the protagonists, is in a sapphic relationship with Celia, but in the first few episodes, Celia is killed when their nunnery burns down. She appears in later episodes, but as an…undead puppet of a spider demon. It’s dangerously close to the horrific “bury your gays” trope, but…yeah, I don’t know. On one hand, it’s set in Medieval Europe, and in a nunnery, no less, so the relationship likely wouldn’t have ended well even if it hadn’t burned down. On the other, Celia didn’t have to be killed off/resurrected for Morgana to have character development–Celia could have run off with her, and there still could have been tension there if she had joined her, Nimue, Arthur, and the rest. I’m still unsure about it, but at least they…tried. And I think there were a few LGBTQ+ couples present in the Fey camp in the background.
- Faithfulness to the source material: For the most part, the Netflix adaptation followed the book closely, which was great to see! There’s a few tweaked details, but they didn’t bother me much at all.
Now, some of the characters/performances that I liked:
- Arthur and Morgana: As brother and sister, they didn’t have the best chemistry, but individually, both their performances were good! Arthur was simultaneously bumbling and steadfast, just like I imagined him in the book. Morgana was similarly endearing, and they way that the show ended, I’m interested in seeing how they *might* continue her arc.
- Merlin: A lot of the criticism that the book got was about Merlin, specifically about how they had massacred his character, making him a more arrogant man, and more than a bit of a drunkard. But even though I love Arthurian legend as much as the next person, I understood the change–Cursed is supposed to be a prequel to the events of these legends, and it would make sense for Merlin to be a younger, more disillusioned character, before he became the wise mentor figure that we know and love. Skarsgård’s performance was well-translated from the book, and I liked following his character.
- Uther Pendragon: He’s exactly the kind of character that you love to hate. Pendragon was the perfect, whiny and overtly arrogant and hotheaded king to contrast with the other characters.
- The Red Paladins: Though Sister Iris was a bit underused, the Red Paladins are just as chilling as they appear in the novel.
- …Nimue: I liked her character in the book, but Langford’s acting just felt…so flat, so lacking in emotion. I wanted to root for her, but there was such a lack of heart in the character that I could barely muster up any emotion.
- The romance: They had this in the book as well, but I wasn’t as much of a fan of it there, either. It felt like it was needlessly shoehorned in to appease the Teen™️ audience.
- The gratuitous violence: Again, I suppose this means that it was faithful to the books, because the book was very violent, but it was definitely a bit much. Some of it felt like it was only added in for the shock value, and could have been cut out in the long run. Also, the effect of the blood splattering onto the camera lens works well in present day/more futuristic media, but it took away from the Medieval European setting.
- The subplots: At least they got tied up at the end (somewhat), but they didn’t contribute to the story. Pym’s whole arc with the Red Spear felt wholly unnecessary, and just fan service that assumed that everyone would appreciate that they kept their comic relief character alive and giving her a romantic arc. Most of the Red Spear characters bugged me as well (especially the captain). The subplot with Morgana, Celia, and the spider demon was a little bit better, but it didn’t do much to the story, other than giving the allusion that Morgana might become more powerful than Nimue herself.
- That awful song at the end of episode 9: OH GOD. OHHHH GOD. NOPE. Aside from being blatantly manufactured to be put in the show, it again took me out of the setting. I mean, it’s not like a medieval sea shanty would have worked any better for the scene, but I found myself rolling my eyes sky-high.
- The acting: Even though I listed some of the good performances above, most of them were…good, but forgettable. Other than the characters listed, nobody quite stood out for me (save for Sister Iris). Decent, but nothing that blew me away.
Overall, Cursed wasn’t spectacular, but I don’t regret watching it. The filming locations, score, and transitions were gorgeous, and it mostly stayed true to the source material, but it was dragged down by a few unnecessary subplots and forgettable acting. I’d give it a solid 3/5.
Would I recommend it? I suppose I would. For all you fantasy lovers and fans of the original novel who don’t have much else to watch, I’d encourage you to give it a watch. As long as you have the stomach for quite a lot of violence, though.
Since I’ve already posted once today, check out this week’s Goodreads Monday for today’s song.
That’s it for this TV review! I hope you enjoyed it. Have a wonderful day, and take care of yourselves!