This review is based on an early screening of the first five episodes of Cursed.
Cursed is the newest Netflix fantasy series based on the upcoming illustrated novel by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, who are also executive producers on the series. The series is a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend, told through Nimue’s eyes, a young heroine with a mysterious gift whose destiny is to become the powerful and tragic Lady of the Lake. After her mother’s death, she finds an unexpected partner in Arthur, a young mercenary on a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword. Throughout her journey, Nimue becomes a symbol of courage and rebellion against the terrifying Red Paladins, and their complicit King Uther.
I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy series outside Game of Thrones, so I wasn’t expecting much from this; however, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Cursed offers a fresh, creative, and bloody take on a familiar world that we have seen done to death. This isn’t the PG-13 version we are used to seeing, where it cuts away during battle scenes. We see battle sequences fully realized with swords cutting through skin, going in and out of necks along with getting the much wanted blood splatter.
Cursed does a great job at redefining the Arthurian tale for a new generation, letting us see it from a different perspective, and having Arthur and Merlin as supporting characters yet still crucial to the narrative. The show might not be for everybody. I can foresee complaints about the brewing teen romance, but it’s still a smart, creative choice to draw in a teen audience and keep them invested.
The storytelling is an aspect that impressed me. I was hooked by the story from the first frame, especially after the opening credits, which I loved. While I enjoyed the story and was hooked, it did have some pacing issues with episodes ranging from 46-58 minutes. I feel the shorter episodes moved along smoother than the longer ones.
A great creative choice was how they used art that looked straight out of a graphic novel to progress the story. The art would sometimes set up a new scene before turning live-action and sometimes it was used to show battle scenes with the aftermath being live-action. I feel the art was used this way likely for budget reasons. Maybe they only had enough budget for some action sequences, with the animated storytelling being a smart way to have a battle onscreen without eating away through much of the show’s budget. It was also fun to see the nods to different legends and the varying spins they took with familiar material.
The series is held together by a commanding lead performance from Katherine Langford, as Nimue/The Lady of the Lake. I’ve been a fan of Katherine’s since her debut in 13 Reasons Why. The series fleshes her out, giving her chances to be vulnerable, strong, and a badass. It’s a different telling that we are used to seeing this character, who I feel is the most mysterious in the Arthurian lore.
Her involvement varies in the stories, with the one constant being that she is always the one to hand Excalibur to Arthur. Her story here comes off as a coming of age story as she genuinely finds herself during her journey. Langford makes us care for Nimue. I became invested with an emotional journey with her and found myself on edge in certain situations. Her sword fighting is a bit sloppy, mostly due to her getting used to it, but there are flashes where she comes off like she’s mastering its handling. I hope we see her grow as the episodes progress. Her storyline is full of female empowerment, which I liked because it’s great to see women in these kinds of stories be just as good and reliable as men.
Deven Terrell offers excellent support as a young Arthur before becoming the King we’ve always known. He looks different from any actor who’s played the role, but he also plays him differently. He does the opposite from what Clive Owen and Charlie Hunnam did with the role, as they were lacking in charisma, Deven was very charismatic. On display is a roguish charm that works in this younger and more brash version. The series in these first few episodes does a great job of setting up his eventual destiny as King Arthur.
Despite him being in Vikings and Westworld, this is the first time I’m seeing Gustaf Skarsgård, and he is just as talented as his brothers Alexander and Bill, as well as their father, Stellan. His take on Merlin is very different than what we’ve seen portrayed in the past. Here, he’s a drunk. He was the most interesting character in the series for me, and I was thrilled anytime he showed up on the screen. The show did a great job of splitting the time between our three leads, giving them enough time to shine.
The cinematography and production design of Cursed are top-notch material. The cinematography is especially marvelous, and the battle sequences are well shot, dirty, eerie, and murky the way this kind of story should be. The CGI was convincing as well as colorful and vibrant. The design of Excalibur, which is critical to get right, was pure beauty.
Overall, I enjoyed the first five episodes of Cursed, and I can’t wait to see how the remaining episodes turn out and where they take it because I have high hopes. The series has serious potential to be the next hit fantasy series for Netflix after The Witcher, and the next few days will be very telling whether or not it lives up to the potential I feel it has.
I highly recommend it for fans of the fantasy genre and King Arthur.