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CURSED Is a Safely Subversive Arthurian Reimagining (Review)

There has been no shortage of King Arthur reimaginings in the last few years, but Netflix’s Cursed aims to do something a little different. It centers the story around a young woman. Nimue has long been a core part of Arthurian lore as Lady of the Lake. But here, she’s both hero and protagonist. We follow the tragic figure of Nimue on a quest to deliver a magical sword to Merlin. Though it feels far from the prestige TV quality of other recent medieval influenced shows and plays it safe, Cursed is an enjoyable yarn with adventure, magic, and even a few scares.

If you’re familiar with the tales of the Knights of the Round Table, then you can imagine Cursed as a sort of contemporary prequel to the iconic tales. The series features young versions of many of the characters who have been entertaining readers and viewers for centuries. The new Netflix series is based on the illustrated novel by Frank Miller and Thomas Wheeler, which they announced at the same time as Netflix optioned the series. Despite the former’s penchant for problematic at best—and racist at worst—storytelling, Cursed manages to be a relatively modern take. It sincerely tries to be forward thinking in both story and casting.

Nimue wields the sword in Cursed
Netflix

Far from the decrepit and nefarious versions we’ve seen before, this Nimue is a young and sprightly woman with fairy, or fae, heritage. Her powers are strong and place her at the core of her small community. Nimue’s preference is to stay in the shadows. Her balance between trying to be a normal girl and the responsibility she feels to her people and her powers is at the core of the series. That conflict sparks off our heroine’s adventures when she tries to shirk those very responsibilities only to find herself face to face with a young Arthur and the destruction of her village and her family.

With the production values of a BBC Saturday evening drama—think Merlin—there’s a charm here that belies the derivative nature of the story. Led by Katherine Langford (Knives Out) and Devon Terrell (Ophelia), Cursed has a bright young cast. Langford is a charming lead and Terrell is so terrific as Arthur that I want a spin-off series now. Shalom Brune-Franklin, who plays Arthur’s sister, steals every scene she’s in. Cursed also boasts sterling character actors like Peter Mullan, who offers a chilling turn as the monstrous leader of the evangelical cult of the Red Paladins.

Nimue and Arthur in Cursed
Netflix

King Arthur canon diehards might struggle with how the story shakes up the roles and connections between characters. But it works. With a story that’s been told so many times over hundreds of years, Cursed uses its twists to surprise and delight. You’ll meet all of your favorite Knights of the Round Table here, but you might be shocked by how or when. One of the most interesting things Cursed achieves is how well it reveals these connections. The MCU has established a modern version of interconnected storytelling that makes every new character feel like a vibrant treat, and Cursed follows that style.

Another thing that makes Cursed stand out is its dedication to using practical effects—even though it doesn’t have a Game of Thrones size budget. You’ll see some truly spectacular and haunting makeup work, especially in the later episodes. It feels refreshing to see a world that for the most part comes across as tangible. Even if it does make the series seem more like something you’d see on Saturday evening TV in the ’00s. One of the aesthetic choices that works less well is the addition of animated interludes. They mimic Frank Miller’s style without actually replicating it. These moments often take away from building tension. They also make Cursed feel more like a kids TV show with some gore.

A scary crowned knight in Cursed
Netflix

Overall, Cursed is an engaging watch. It tries to reinvent the world of King Arthur but doesn’t smash its restraining tropes. Although Langford is a great lead, the show makes most of the other fae characters people of color. So, she’s a white savior by default. Terell is brilliant as Arthur. A Black Arthur does feel radical, but he is a co-lead and sidekick to Langford’s Nimue. Cursed is still a lot of fun, but don’t expect anything too revolutionary from this safely subversive new Netflix show.

Featured Image: Netflix

Rosie Knight is a writer who adores waxing lyrical about the things that she loves. Follow her on Twitter!