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Cursed Season 1 first impression: Netflix’s feminist spin on Arthurian legend is flawed yet entertaining

Katherine Langford impresses in Netflix's historical fantasy series Cursed. The series, based on an illustrated novel by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, is a spin on the tales of King Arthur.

Written by Kshitij Rawat | New Delhi |
Updated: July 19, 2020 10:37:46 am
Cursed season 1 review, Cursed season 1, cursed, cursed netflix Cursed is streaming on Netflix. (Photo: Netflix)

The stories of legendary British monarch King Arthur, the epitome of chivalry, have entertained us for centuries. Bards and authors have shaped the tales of the character according to their wish. In one take, Arthur is a prince disguised as an orphan, and in other, a born royal. There are a few tropes that stay fairly constant like young Arthur pulling the Excalibur sword from an anvil atop a stone or Arthur has a wizard called Merlin or Merlyn to guide him and so on.

Marion Zimmer Bradley recounted the legend from the perspective of female characters. Netflix’s historical fantasy series Cursed is a similar feminist spin on the legend of King Arthur, except it suggests that Arthur did not find the sword. Rather Nimue or Lady of the Lake, a mystical character in Arthurian legend, possessed it first.

The series, based on an illustrated novel of the same name by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, stars Katherine Langford in the lead role. It pictures a Britain in which Nimue belongs to a race of otherworldly beings called the Fey, who are being persecuted by an order of zealot monks called the Red Paladin, led by Peter Mullan’s Father Carden. There is Merlin, as well, played by Vikings and Westworld star Gustaf Skarsgård.

The story begins with Nimue’s village being burnt to the ground by the Red Paladins. Her dying mother tasks her to deliver a very special sword (yes, Excalibur) to Merlin, who in the story works for king Uther Pendragon. Only, the Red Paladins are not making it easy and are actively pursuing her. Also, she befriended a young mercenary called Arthur, who stole the sword to bring back the glory to his house and to fulfill his father’s wish.

First off, the series is quite entertaining. Langford is an Australian, and her British accent does not sound perfect, but she is not terrible either. After a while, one learns to ignore it. The initial episodes of Cursed have her constantly on the move, and despite this, she manages to leave an impact.

Skarsgård as Merlin is ingenious casting, and it appears as though he is still in Floki (his character in Vikings) mode — keeping things to himself, not trusting even his king with secrets, defying authority and so on. When I think of Merlin from stories, I think of somebody like Gandalf, only sulkier — an old, bearded man who does not suffer fools. But I am totally cool with this one.

Cursed season 1 review, Cursed season 1, cursed, cursed netflix Nimue with Excalibur in Cursed. (Photo: Netflix)

But so far, I have most enjoyed watching Mullan’s sinister Father Carden. It is remarkable how much he leaves unsaid and lets his eyes, expressions and subtle facial twitches do the talking. He is an out and out bigot who wants to exterminate an entire race of people, and yet has the air of the most reasonable man you will ever meet.

So far, I quite liked Cursed. It is not perfect, and if I were really nitpicking, I would probably have found a lot more shortcomings (for instance, the world does not seem fully fleshed out and also it is too long and, like many other Netflix originals, the runtime of around an hour per episode seems wasted), but on the whole, this Netflix series is greater than the sum of its flawed parts.

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