Netflix brings Frank Miller’s story of the Lady of the Lake to the small screen.
Nimue (Katherine Langford) is a young Fey woman whose kind are being hunted by Christians throughout medieval England, led by the cruel Father Carden (Peter Mullan). She is given a magic sword and told to seek out Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgard), the magician. Along the way, she meets a young mercenary named Arthur (Devon Terrell) who dreams of becoming a knight and his sister Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin). Nimue finds herself in the middle of a major war that will shape the future of two different kingdoms. Other supporting characters include King Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto), Father Carden’s Fey hunter the Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), Sir Gawain (Matt Stokoe), Pym (Lily Newmark), and the Red Spear (Bella Dayne).
I feel like all of the adaptations of medieval fantasy series that Netflix has been putting out lately (The Witcher, The Letter for the King) is an attempt to find their own Game of Thrones franchise now that the original has ended. So far, while I don’t think they’ve quite picked up the mantle left by that show, I have enjoyed their efforts. Out of all three, this is probably the most accessible to the casual viewer.
The show does a good job of quickly explaining most of the rules of this world. Magic is real, but most people, including the Fey, can’t use it. The Fey are persecuted by the Catholic Church and the Red Paladins. Nimue is more discriminated against than others because she is marked as being special and more magical. Moreover, it pretty quickly establishes that none of the characters will be bound by their regular roles in Arthurian Mythology. I’ve never read the original Frank Miller series, so I’m not sure how closely the show follows it. For example, Nimue, traditionally the mostly passive Lady of the Lake, takes on the role of the wielder of a magical sword and as a rebel leader. It pays just enough tribute that everyone might believe that this is the actual story behind the Arthurian legends, but that Nimue’s role was downplayed due to sexism over the centuries. Not that the show has made this explicit, yet.
The performances are all pretty solid, particularly Skarsgard as Merlin and Devon Terrell as Arthur. Both are given a level of moral ambiguity that isn’t usually found in the traditional mythos and both play it out with an appropriate level of gravitas. The show’s relatively color-blind casting is a rarity for a series like this, and it’s refreshing that not much is made of it. I am sure this is not the first casting of King Arthur by a black actor, but I damned well cannot think of another one. Skarsgard, though, gets to be the first Merlin I can think of that goes Full HAM, in the sense of being a completely unstoppable force of violence. It’s really only one scene, but it basically reminds me of the Darth Vader scene from Rogue One. It’s a group of normals versus a sword-wielding demigod, and they do not have the good sense to run and hide.
Overall, I enjoyed the show and I hope it gets another season.
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