Cursed Review

Cursed (Netflix)
Born into the same world as King Arthur, a fey girl named Nimue (Katherine Langford) discovers a powerful sword moments after religious extremists the Red Paladins kill her mother. In accordance with her mother’s dying wish, Nimue embarks on a quest to find Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), making allies and enemies along the way.

by Beth Webb |
Published on

Those who have already tired of the female revamp trend in Hollywood shouldn’t write off Cursed too hastily. The Netflix show, based on the graphic novel written by Tom Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller (both serve as co-creators here), is sure enough rooted in Arthurian legend — lead character Nimue (Katherine Langford) is known in medieval legend as the Lady Of The Lake — and the king remains a central character. Yet the tether that binds Nimue’s story to Arthur’s isn’t a strained one, and the more it slackens, the more exhilarating Cursed becomes.

Langford is adroit at pulling off impressively choreographed combat sequences.

A nexus of knotty, backstabbing politics, graphic violence and chaotic storytelling that severs character arcs at unruly junctures, the show’s writing grows in confidence as it rumbles onwards, peppered with gorgeous, sprawling animated segments and showcasing Langford’s abilities as a rising action star.

The show’s opening episodes are its weakest, specifically because they are the ones most concerned with detailing Arthur’s legacy. Before we cross paths with the future king, we’re introduced to Nimue, the outcast, who suffers from a severe case of uncontrollable powers and is brutally mistreated by her people until the Red Paladins, led by a reliably nefarious Peter Mullen, wipe out her hometown. From here the story struggles to stay on solid ground as it establishes a myriad of key characters, while the inevitable Arthurian references are presented in clumsy ways that dampen the agency of Nimue’s genesis.

Cursed (Netflix)

Once the bonds to this world are established, however, the show can more-or-less move on, as Nimue’s journey to deliver Excalibur to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) draws both friend and foe into her path. There’s a ceaselessly cruel Ice King (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) and a weak-jawed king Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) who join Mullen’s hunt for the sword, while allies are found in Arthur and his sister Igraine (Devon Terrell and Shalom Brune-Franklin, both earnest and instantly likeable). Vikings and Westworld star Skarsgård is a highlight as Merlin, bringing a flinty charisma to this beleaguered, boozy version of the notorious sorcerer, and clearly relishing the chance to play one of the show’s more densely written characters.

The same, alas, isn’t always the case with the treatment of Nimue. Langford is adroit at pulling off impressively choreographed combat sequences (a fight against wolves in the first episode is a fine example of what’s to come) and her performance is polished, but her character is the paragon of a strong female lead: a straight arrow who’s devoid of the traits and idiosyncrasies that her surrounding ensemble are given, instead tasked with simply fulfilling the role of the hero.

Yet there are far worse fates than having to play the strait-laced protagonist, especially in a world created by Wheeler and Miller, whose taste for bone-crunching gore and medieval anarchy aren’t watered down for their lead actor, whose career to date has consisted of teen dramas like 13 Reasons Why and Love, Simon. If only her character had been permitted an inner world of her own to inhabit, this would have made for an even more captivating, creatively stimulating show.

Langford exudes an air of natural leadership as she storms the visceral and violent, if not wholly original, landscape, while Skarsgård emerges the strongest of a talented ensemble cast.
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