Nimue is Beguiling but Netflix’s Cursed May be Just That

20 Jul

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Netflix’s Cursed is a curious beast. It’s a retelling of a retelling (based on the novel of the same name by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller) of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Nimue (Katherine Langford). In most versions of the legend, she’s an enchantress–the Lady of the Lake–who gives King Arthur the mighty sword, Excalibur. She also wooed Merlin, stole his power and entombed him.

The wizard we see here is nothing like the one portrayed in literature. VikingsGustaf Skarsgård gives this interpretation a I’m without a purpose act. He’s not wise beyond his years and is more of an empty shell when we first meet him. His tale picks up closer to the end, which includes the eventual encounter with this teenage princess, but any idea of a romance is never alluded to.

Much of the tale takes place with Uther Pendragaon (Sebastian Armesto) at the throne. The young Arthur (Devon Terrell) we meet in this version has some African blood in him!

In this reimagining by writer Tom Wheeler, what’s lost is in fully developing the romance and mysticism to which the Arthurian tradition is renowned for. The Fae are druids; their connection to and beating heart of the land is not as fully explored as I would like. The mystical power they have gets very little exposition until “Festa and Moreii.” Even then, the treatment is brief and I wanted to dig into this prehistory with a fine-tooth comb.

The most perplexing of figures is The Green Knight (as par Gawain). He is nothing like the individual from the epic poem. Despite the fact this series is set before the known written works from the Middle Ages, this character is nothing like what I knew him as. Ask any English Literature undergraduate student about the poem, and they will say it’s required reading. There’s a lot to learn about where this piece of literature fits in the grande scheme of Arthurian Lore.

Lancelot (aka The Weeping Monk) never got involved with Arthur (and Guinevere) until much later, when the legend became just that in the Middle Ages. He’s a French creation, and Chrétien de Troyes introduced him to Arthur’s world in the late Middle Ages. At least in this show, nobody knows who he really is until he finally reveals himself!

One detail series creator Wheeler got right is with the Romans invasion. They were adamant in doing away with the old religion. The Red Paladins see the mystical beliefs of the “pagans” as bad. Though Christianity was eventually embraced in the later Arthurian works (namely Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory), that’s where this series feels very muddled. It’s not meant to be part of everything we know, but rather feels like its own alternative dimension interpretation of the traditions that make Britain great.

While this writer is behind the television adaptation, Frank’s contribution seems limited to the opening credits, despite having an executive producer credit. Had more of his visual style been present, I’d be hooked. I can see the style of 300 working for a grittier version of King Arthur, but sadly the series lacks the polish of its big screen cousins Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

Instead, it struggles to stand out when the Mists of Avalon series is widely considered the best feminists view of the Arthurian legend. I wound up jumping ahead to watch key episodes–”The Fey Queen” and “The Sacrifice”–to see her take leadership, but ultimately she isn’t ready yet.

Whether the series will end sooner than later (if another season is picked up) depends on whether Wheeler is taking inspiration from Historia Brittonum, Historia Regum Britanniae or a later post-medieval work or not. I’d rather he did than has not. Hints of the former is suggested in what the Sword of Power means. All the different kingdomes from Great Briton is divided and needs a symbol to help to unite, before they can truly repel the invaders.

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