Like any good fantasy series, Netfilix’s upcoming "Cursed" starts off with a harrowing quest. A young woman named Nimue, played by Katherine Langford of "13 Reasons Why" fame, is charged by her mother to deliver a mysterious sword to the famed magician Merlin. It turns out that a lot of angry, power-hungry men want to get their hands on this weapon. As Langford's character narrates in a trailer for the show, "the legend says this sword belongs to the one true king. But what if the sword chooses a queen?"
A spin on Arthurian legends and adapted from an illustrated novel by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, "Cursed" is sure to tick many boxes for those who love the fantasy genre of magic, sword fights, dramatic monologues and more. It’s a cross between "Game of Thrones" and "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" with a dash of "The Witcher." Instead of focusing on the usual protagonists, like an impressionable King Arthur or powerful Merlin, "Cursed" puts Nimue in the spotlight. Also known as the tragic Lady of the Lake in Arthurian lore, we get to watch as a heroine comes into her own and embraces her powers, all while exploring themes of home, duty and destiny.
When we first meet Nimue, she’s the village outcast due to her Fey abilities. She has a mystical yet uncontrolled connection with nature, with vines and foliage coming alive whenever she’s angry. While her mother assures Nimue that she's special, the young woman sees her gifts as more of a curse. Then comes the attack of the Red Paladins, a group of purists who follow the church and want to destroy anything supernatural. It is her mother’s dying wish for Nimue to take a sword to Merlin, which ends up making her a target of anyone who wants to rule the kingdom. Nimue is able to escape a group of Red Paladins and their pack of wolves using the sword and her Fey powers, and finds herself teaming up with a charming mercenary named Arthur (Devon Terrell) for her quest. But along the way, Nimue becomes invested in helping Fey refugees whose homes and families have also been slaughtered by the Red Paladins, uniting her people and searching for a way to protect them.
The show subverts many expectations about the King Arthur legends. This Arthur is far from a royal and is instead a young man searching for purpose and honor. He's also portrayed by a Black actor, something we often don't often see when the story of King Arthur is brought to the screen. There's a slew of other female characters with their own autonomy: Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), the nun who helps run the underground network of transporting fairies to safety. Nimue's best friend from growing up is a girl named Pym (Lily Newmark), who finds her own adventure after she ends up in the company of the Raiders. Each of these characters is given their own exciting storylines and developments, which will likely lead to their own set of fan bases.
Langford dazzles in the role as Nimue, her first major television credit since starring in Netflix’s controversial "13 Reasons Why" and appearing in films such as "Love, Simon" and "Knives Out." The Australian actress finally gets to dump her American accent for a British one and truly looks the part of the Fey queen. Langford deftly balances the scenes that break your heart, like Nimue returning to her village to find everything on fire, to the ones that have the heroine kicking ass, slicing and dicing Red Paladins with the sword. That’s another thing about Cursed: the show is unafraid to lean into the grisly violence of fight scenes or the darkness that is entwined with the sword. There’s fantastical faeries and beautiful settings, but also plenty of ugliness and horror in this fantasy world.
Much of that evil is brought to life by older, male characters that are extensions of institutions. Peter Mullan plays the leader of the Red Paladins, whose extermination of the Fey seems to be more about the control it affords him than actually being concerned with the light of God. His secret weapon is the Weeping Monk (portrayed by "Teen Wolf" alum Daniel Sharman), a deadly assassin with the ability to track down Fey who has no problem taking life after life, while rocking some of the show’s most emo beauty look: smeared, dark circles under his eyes. King Uther (Sebastian Armesto) has less concern for peace in the land he oversees and more for his reputation, allowing the Red Paladins to continue their course of destruction. Even a usually beloved character like Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) is painted with his own myriad of flaws and as a trickster always looking out for himself, unclear where his true loyalties lie even when Nimue first is able to make contact with him.
The symbolism of Nimue, a female champion, contending with these corrupt men does not go unnoticed. However, Cursed also explores what it means for Nimue to be tainted by power and that she is imperfect herself. Possessing a sword as mighty as the one at her side is dangerous for anyone, even someone who has all the makings and good intentions of a hero.
Nimue’s journey from misfit to leader is a sparkling tale of a young woman figuring out where she fits in the world, negotiating her own wants and desires and what she believes is her destiny. The true magic of Cursed isn’t from the Fey or sword, it’s from Nimue herself.
"Cursed" premieres on Netflix July 17.