Cursed, Episode 1 Review: Netflix’s Arthurian drama has likable leads and deft writing

Scorned as a witch, a young woman with powers leaves her village to start a new life, just as a ruthless army scours the countryside for her kind.

“Where do I begin,” asks Nimue (pronounced “nim-way”), the magical heroine of the new Netflix series Cursed, “with water or fire?” She chooses fire, but there is already water, water, everywhere.

That’s fitting, because the Fay character of Nimue, played ably by Australian actress Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), is another name for The Lady of the Lake, an important figure in the legendary stories surrounding King Arthur. Traditionally, she’s the one who gifts Arthur with Excalibur, his sword.

Based on the popular Cursed illustrated novel created by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, the series is a modern take on the old tale, a dramatic reimagining of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of Nimue. Of course, “reimagining” means the storytellers are taking the original characters and situations and running hog wild with the narrative. How does it all work out, at least in the first episode?

Not bad. The show is visually lush, taking many cues from its illustrated source material when it comes to setting scenes and graphic transitions. It looks very pretty. The actors look great, too, unless the role requires otherwise. It falls to Langford to carry the heaviest dramatic load and she proves up to the task.

The premiere episode is well-structured, following a predictable but enjoyable path as it introduces the show’s main characters and storylines. Nimue is part of Fay society (Sky Folk) but a social outcast due to her uncontrolled pagan powers and relationship to the ancient Hidden Ones, who select her as their new Summoner. She’s also been marked with dark scars by a demon bear that attacked her as a child.

Cursed

CURSED (L TO R) PETER MULLAN as FATHER CARDEN in episode 101 of CURSED Cr. Netflix © 2020

The pagan Fay world is under attack by religious Christian zealots — the paladins, or Red Cloaks — led by the ruthless Father Carden (Peter Mullan) who is bent on genocide. Nimue’s village is attacked and largely slaughtered, with Nimue’s high-priestess mother charging her with returning a magical sword to Merlin (the mother being offed early is one of the finest Disney traditions). Nimue soon forms a romantically-charged alliance with the handsome mercenary/knight Arthur (Devon Terrell).

Many other characters populate this fantasy land, including a somewhat unreliable Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) and the Sith-like Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman). One of the most interesting takes on the old characters is Merlin, currently a bitter drunkard who believes he’s lost his powers, played with enjoyable gusto by Gustaf Skarsgard (Vikings). Between all of the action, the episode offers some lovely subdued moments as well, including some cute bits between Nimue and Arthur, and Nimue’s last scene with her mortally wounded mother.

Cursed

CURSED (L TO R) SEBASTIAN ARMESTO as KING UTHER PENDRAGON in episode 101 of CURSED Cr. ROBERT VIGLASKY/Netflix © 2020

Overall, “Nimue” is a decent start to Cursed. Powered by fine casting, deft writing and bold cinematography, it’s a fine showcase for the capable and radiant Langford. The premiere does does bite off a little more material than it can effectively chew, and we have some occasionally plodding action and less-than-perfect CGI wolves, but Cursed certainly has potential.

Episode Rating: B

Next: The Brave New World pilot is a solid start to an intriguing sci-fi series

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