Katherine Langford is Nimue in Netflix's Cursed.


Dept. of Arthurian Subversions


“Listen, strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”

Dennis, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to shows on Netflix. You’ve heard it by now. Hell, you’ve probably said it to someone yourself. It usually goes a little something like this: “How far in are you? Because episode three is when it really kicks off.” I gave Cursed three episodes. And then five. Then seven. 10 long hours later, I was done with the first season and still waiting for it to become something more.

Now I’m not going to tell you that this is a take that no one asked for. The rich mythology of the Matter of Britain allows for so many versions and variations. God knows we’ve already seen it from so many perspectives. From Arthur’s and Guinevere’s. From Lancelot’s and Gawain’s. We’ve seen the adventures of a young Merlin. We’ve even had the story told from the entirely unnecessary Guy Ritchie point of view. So why not a retelling centred around the woman who would eventually become The Lady of the Lake?

Katherine Langford is Nimue in Netflix's Cursed.

Why not indeed? Based on the 2019 illustrated novel by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, Cursed feels like a franchise starter that was laser targeted for our current moment. A subversive feminist reading of Arthurian legend, with swords and magic, with religious extremists and faery folk, featuring yet another Chosen One with glowing scars on her back (see: Warrior Nun)? It sounds like perfect fodder for Netflix, who are still on the hunt for that next big fantasy series. (The Witcher didn’t quite impact the cultural landscape the way they wanted it to. Neither did The Letter for the King.)

There is great promise here. Cursed has an enthralling opening gambit. It begins with a voice-over that tells us: “There is a story lost to the mists of time. About the Sword of Power, and the young woman who wielded it. Before Arthur the King, the Sword of Power chose a queen.” And I was all in. But that didn’t last very long.

Gustaf Skarsgård is Merlin in Netflix's Cursed.

The story begins with Nimue (Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why), who was cursed as a child by a demon bear, being chosen by the Hednar as the new summoner of her village. It is a job she doesn’t want. (Though we have no idea why because we are never told what a summoner actually is.) So she grabs her best friend, Pym (Lily Newmark), and runs away from home, looking to sail away in order to get a fresh start.

Meanwhile, a sexy shirtless Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård – yes, there is a third Skarsgård brother) has been tasked by the king to find a magical solution to the drought that’s been engulfing the land. Ruthless Red Paladins are pillaging villages and indiscriminately setting its denizens on fire. And a moody, thrift store Kylo Ren skulks around the forests of Wales.

We meet Arthur, a sword for hire. We meet Morgana, who is in an abbey for some reason. When suddenly, vikings from a completely different series – and mythology – show up.

There are times when all of this is fun. Mostly, however, these ten episodes are an unfocused meandering mess.

Devon Terrell is Arthur and Katherine Langford is Nimue in Netflix's Cursed.

For a start, the series doesn’t quite give its lead her due. Yes, this is Nimue’s story, but throwing the spotlight on her without actually creating a substantial set of stories or beliefs to bolster who she is means that we still see and understand her in the context of other, more well known, characters.

Take, for example, something like Wicked, where Elphaba is treated as a person in her own right before being thrown into the world that we already know and love. She is given the time and space to grow. She is given the kind of backstory that lets the audience connect with her plight.

Arthur and Merlin are far too conspicuous. And having the former reimagined as a liar and a thief, and the latter a washed out drunk, doesn’t do anything to progress Nimue’s purpose.

Katherine Langford is Nimue in Netflix's Cursed.

And then there is the writing. Or lack thereof. On the one hand, the series, having been built atop an existing mythology, doesn’t have to stop to explain every plot and concept. On the other, it isn’t enough to merely make up words that sound mysterious and magical and have it pass off as world building. It also doesn’t help that the dialogue is so pedestrian it sounds like the actors are reciting lines from a high school play. (“Do you suppose she meant the magician Merlin? The one from the stories?” GROAN.)

I was also incredibly distracted by how clean everything was. This is supposedly a period of great strife. A lawless age where psychotic priests, sanctioned by the Vatican, stalk the land killing minorities. And yet, everyone looks like they’ve just stepped out of costume and wardrobe into surroundings that just scream “set!” Their clothes are pristine. Their faces are fresh. There is no grit here. And it kept me from getting invested in this world.

Sebastian Armesto is Uther Pendragon in Netflix's Cursed.
Peter Mullan leads the evil Red Paladins in Netflix's Cursed.

Watching Cursed, I couldn’t help but feel that it was an intellectual property that Netflix snapped up in order to prevent anyone else from getting to it first. It skewed young. It was based on a mythology that people knew. It had some of that Game of Thrones flavour. It ticked all the right boxes on paper.

Unfortunately there is very little here that makes it stand out. Neither the acting nor the writing is particularly substantial. The story isn’t quite subversive enough to be shocking. The characters are far from compelling. And the visuals are about as staid and styleless as it gets. Welcome to the very middling middle of the Netflix catalogue.

Netflix, Season 1, 10 episodes
Directors: Zetna Fuentes, Daniel Nettheim, Jon East, and Sarah O’Gorman
Writers: Tom Wheeler, Janet Lin, Rachel Shukert, Leila Gerstein, William Wheeler, and Robbie Thompson
Cast: Katherine Langford, Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Daniel Sharman, Sebastian Armesto, Lily Newmark, Peter Mullan, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Bella Dayne, and Matt Stokoe

Cursed is now streaming on Netflix.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

John Lithgow stars in HBO's reboot of Perry Mason.
Previous Story

Perry Mason: A Conversation with John Lithgow

Next Story

Doom Patrol Diary: Season 1, Episodes 3 and 4

Latest from TV