Carnival Row cast: Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne
Carnival Row creators: Rene Echevarria and Travis Beacham
The opening sequence of Carnival Row has a number of dishevelled young creatures — mostly women and children — running for cover as they duck bullets and arrows from a group of assailants. All of them are aiming to jump onto a ship for a passage to safer places. Not all of them make it even though they have wings to fly. If you are still struggling to make the connect, the moment a pixie-cut sporting Cara Delevingne, who plays Vignette Stonemoss, utters the word ‘refugees’, the picture becomes clear. Carnival Row, the latest offering from Amazon Prime Video, takes everything you have read in newspapers in the past couple of years to the screen, with the help of fairies, beasts, witches and humans.
The eight-episode long first season has already been commissioned for a second one, so rest assured we know that these magical creatures are here for a while. This fantasy-adventure show stars actor Orlando Bloom and Delevingne in lead roles. One’s a fae — Delevingne’s look with the pixie haircut and slender frame is totally on point— and the other is Rycroft Philostrate, a good-hearted inspector battling his demons, swooping and gliding to places in his superhero-esque silhouette. Bloom has come a long way from his Lord of the Rings (LOTR) days — he has matured, is bulkier and brooding. Carnival Row also proves that no one is big enough for an OTT platform anymore. The casting of Bloom proves it: he comes from a filmography that includes the Pirates of the Caribbean and LOTR franchise.
The faes have been forced to flee their native lands and seek refuge in the kingdom of Burgue because of the war, but sadly, they are only deemed fit for menial jobs by the humans. It doesn’t matter that they fought shoulder-to-shoulder against Pact, the enemy. We immediately think of Donald Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis of the Middle East, the ever-expanding bigotry and rise of right-wing fascism world over, and we had hoped that this epic-scale show does justice to all that.
Years after the war has ended, Delevingne and Bloom cross paths again. There’s deep, passionate history there, and a romance is waiting to be rekindled. ‘Will they, won’t they,’ we hover, as the two play the game. Their romance is one of the steadfast arcs of the show. So while Delevingne figures out a life in the Row, trying to be a lady’s maid and then joining a smuggling gang; Bloom tries to figure out who’s behind a series of brutal murders, all committed by an unknown, unseen beast from another realm.
Creating a new world from scratch is not easy. And if you were getting major Harry Potter feels while watching this, you are on the right track. Nick Dudman is the name behind the make-up and the special effects of the show, and he is credited for the same in the Harry Potter and Star War franchises. Dudman has mostly done a good job, our hearts do soar as Delevingne flies into the sky with her beautiful wings whirring. The horns of the Pucks though, could have done with some fine tuning.
Set in the seventh century, the show is overcrowded with themes and references. We see an overarching grey tone, reminiscent of Dickensinion times, the filth, the mud and the mulch add to that vibe. The ‘us’ vs ‘them’ narrative is heavy and there are subtle nods to racism. But the narrative doesn’t stick, the arguments are weak and often banal. There’s too much happening: a scheming brother-sister duo, who have fallen on hard times, the chancellor and his scheming wife, etc etc. Taking the politics of today and blending it with fantasy of yore, if done well, could have filled the Game of Thrones size hole in the life of the fans of the genre. It doesn’t. You are better off watching reruns of the George Martin creation.