Series Review: Cursed
Created by Frank Miller & Tom Wheeler
Streaming on Netflix 7/17
There have been approximately 8,000 versions of the legend of King Arthur on film, and it would be a charitable estimate to say that five or six have been kind of good, or at least watchable. The good news is that you can add one more to the watchable list, with the heavy qualifier that you must be comfortable with revisionist storytelling so extreme that it makes Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves look slavishly purist in comparison.
Based on the New York Times–bestselling book of the same name, Cursed is a 10-episode series that re-imagines the Arthurian legend through the eyes of Nimue (Katherine Langford), a young woman with a mysterious gift who is destined to become the Lady of the Lake.
Nimue has grown up as an outsider—teased for being different and often accused of being a witch—and possesses powers that she can’t control. The dreaded and fanatical Red Paladins are trying to rid the kingdom (which we assume is Britain, but frankly it’s all so vague that it could be Shreveport) of all fey (fairy) kind, and Nimue knows she is fey. After her mother’s untimely death, she finds an unexpected partner in Arthur (Devon Terrell), a humble and roguish young mercenary, and together they embark a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword. During the course of her journey, Nimue (also known as “The Wolfblood Witch”) becomes a symbol of hope and rebellion against the Paladins and the wicked King Uther.
If you’re any kind of devotee of the legends of Camelot, and you said, “What the hell?” aloud at least once while reading that description, trust me—you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Cursed, adapted by comic book legend Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, 300, Sin City) and author Tom Wheeler from their own novel, is so circuitous and convoluted that it often seems like something a group of kids are acting out in their backyard and making it up as they go. Then one of them had their weird uncle step in a say, “You know, if you let me add a lot more graphic bloodshed, denouncement of organized religion and a couple of hot lesbians, we could make money off of this.” It also seems to be unsure as to whether it’s being made for The CW or HBO, and, of course, the answer is Netflix, the place where these two worlds fuse together.
Langford (13 Reasons Why) is very appealing as Nimue, and deserves the lion’s share of the credit for making Cursed as entertaining as it is. Terrell (who previously played a young Barack Obama for Netflix’s Barry) makes for a charismatic enough interpretation of Arthur via young Han Solo. Gustaf Skarsgård is all over the place as Merlin, though much of the blame for that should be placed on writing and direction.
Still, there’s enough to be enjoyed here if you really like medieval fantasy and can’t get enough of feminist action heroes. I fall enough into both of those categories, so I found Cursed to be both an absorbing guilty pleasure and a puzzling annoyance, which pretty well describes my feelings toward anything with Frank Miller attached to it. It’s too dark and morbid to be a truly successful escapist fantasy, but far too silly to be anything else. I can’t bring myself to give the series a recommendation or condemnation, it’s just kind of … there. But it should work well enough for its target audience. –Patrick Gibbs