Stories about King Arthur, Merlin, the Knights of the Round Table, and the magical Excalibur have been steeped into our popular culture for as long as popular culture has existed. Hollywood has continued to explore the well-known narrative of Arthur's legend over the years, resulting in outcomes all over the qualitative spectrum. There have been some real gems out there, but most Arthurian titles you can think of probably missed the mark. However, in recent years, a shake-up to the legend has proved quite useful for storytellers, helping to tell a brand-new story age-old characters and ideas. The little-seen but immensely delightful The Kid Who Would Be King is a wonderful example of this, using modern-day children to offer an innovative take on the legend. Now, Netflix has found a way to repeat that ingenuity and charm with its new series, Cursed, a delightful spin on a story you think you know.
Cursed is based on the book of the same name by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, and it puts the entire universe of Arthurian characters into a different situation. This story focused on Nimue (Katherine Langford), who many may know as The Lady of The Lake. In Cursed, it's Nimue who is granted the power of Excalibur, and it's up to her to save the Fey people from the church and its army of Red Paladins, who aim to extinguish all magical people from existence. She works closely with capable sell-sword Arthur (Devon Terrell) and the aging wizard Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgard), who has lost all of his magic abilities.
The new Netflix series is 10 episodes in length, and, I'll admit, it takes a little while to get itself going. It's not one of those situations where you need to sit through half of the season to enjoy it, but the first episode is a bit slow, taking its time to establish characters and build its lore. It also feels, in the first few minutes, like Cursed is going to be a series aimed at a younger, more family-oriented audience. That doesn't last long, though, and it's made clear that Cursed has a lot more going on beneath the surface than it seems.
Cursed is bloody and brutal at times, trying its best to feel like Game of Thrones. It never reaches those heights, certainly when it comes to the topic of scale or budget, but it never really needs to. Cursed works best when it simply tries to be itself, an identity it grows into rather well by the end of the 10 episodes. There's something really exciting about seeing these beloved Arthurian characters in situations so different from the places you've seen them before.
For example, Terrell's Arthur is a wonderfully unique version of a character we've all seen too many times to count. He's not a king or a celebrated knight. He doesn't lead an army, much less a nation. He's just a guy who knows his way around a sword and has spent years trying to look out for himself, fighting tooth and nail for everything he has. Terrell does an excellent job of embodying those ideals, while still carrying a regal and noble aura about him, so you never doubt for a second that he could grow into the king you're expecting him to be.
As always, Langford gives an inspired performance. Arthurian stories have never been anchored by female characters, but Langford puts the series on her sword-swinging shoulders and bears the burden with ease. She's as fierce as she is relatable, and there's never a moment throughout the series that you feel like you've spent enough time with her. It's no secret that Langford is a wonderful talent, as she's showcased on several occasions recently, but it's nice to see her finally get the spotlight she's long been owed.
Langford and Terrell will easily be the two most talked-about performers from the show, but there are quite a few others that manage to steal scenes throughout. Daniel Sharman, Lily Newmark, Shalom Brune-Franklin, and Matt Stokoe all come to mind.
What really helps Cursed work is the efforts of Wheeler and Miller, who were able to actually develop the series for television themselves, rather than pass off their book rights to someone else. It's clear that they understand these characters inside and out, and very little is lost in translation from page to screen.
Cursed can feel messy sometimes, as there are a lot of characters and stories to try and balance over the course of 10 episodes. There are moments when it feels like a revelation came out of nowhere, completely unexplained, and you just have to go with it. That's frustrating, but the highs of the series far outweigh the lows, and Cursed manages to tell an exciting and surprisingly timely tale with Nimue and the rest of the Arthurian roster. Twists and big reveals are plenty in this new venture, which is sure to fill the void in the hearts of fantasy fans everywhere.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Cursed is now available to stream on Netflix.