Netflix’s Cursed Subverts The King Arthur Legend, But Does It Work?

Katherine Langford as Nimue in Cursed
(Image credit: (Netflix))

Minor spoilers are ahead for Season One of Netflix’s Cursed.

A lot of us binged Netflix’s latest fantasy series Cursed now that it's available to stream. So much so that the series dethroned The Old Guard’s record-breaking spot and became No. 1 among the streaming service’s many offerings. Based on a YA book by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller (yes, 300 and Sin City’s Frank Miller), who concurrently co-created the show together, Cursed seeks to retell the age-old tale of Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table from a subversive point of view.

Cursed is an Arthurian lore in disguise. It doesn’t start off its story in a grand castle or with valent knights fighting over Excalibur. We’re instead dropped into the world of teen witch Nimue, who is bullied and cast in the shadows for her identity in a world ruled by the Catholic Church. The story does not find connections to its roots until Nimue is entrusted with delivering a sword called the Devil’s Tooth to Merlin – a sorcerer she only knows by way of legend.

As the Cursed story progresses, the names Nimue becomes associated with are more familiar, but the DNA of the show remains wholly unique. Let’s talk through how this new take flirted with a new version of the Arthur legend and if it works or not.

Katherine Langford in Cursed

(Image credit: (Netflix))

How Cursed Changes The Famed Medieval Legend

Now Cursed does follow BBC’s Merlin, which told the story of Merlin, Arthur and company when they are much younger, but it would still be classified as a classic hero’s journey. Cursed may serve more so as an epic tragedy because it follows Nimue, who is doomed to later become the Lady of the Lake.

As the legend goes, Nimue is the enchantress who later gives King Arthur the sword of Excalibur in exchange for a favor she will later come to cash in on. When Nimue does visit Arthur, she requests that he kill the Knight with the Two Swords Sir Balin, who she has a personal gripe with, but he refuses and she ends up being killed.The Lady of the Lake has long been a supporting garnish on Arthurian tales, but Cursed sets up an interesting take on the story by framing Nimue as the complicated hero of the story.

Nimue is much more layered than the later-crowned king of Camelot. Her life is based in hardship and she struggles with using her magical abilities for justice or twisting it around to service her own desires and anger throughout the series. Arthur is instead placed off to the side as the love interest character, Morgana is set up as Arthur’s sister rather than the king's mysterious sorceress protector. Merlin isn’t at all the wise and all-knowing wizard, but a bit of a drunken mess haunted by his past lives. And one of the future Knights of the Round Table operates on a distinct grey area within the show… so a lot of changes.

Devon Terrell as Arthur and Katherine Langford as Nimue in Cursed

(Image credit: (Netflix))

The Perspective Shift in Cursed Really Works

Strangely enough, the changes made to the King Arthur legend for Cursed believably work in the framework of this new universe. It’s the freshest take I’ve seen on the material in some time. There’s been a number of attempts to revitalize the property to the big screen with the Charlie Hunnam-led King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in 2017, which suffered a 31% RT score and utterly flopped at the box office. 2019’s The Kid Who Would Be King similarly failed despite its words of praise from critics. Cursed isn’t a studio movie, but it's proof the King Arthur story can still be intriguing if it plays its cards right.

Going into Cursed, I was acutely aware it may very well just be an attempt at the “female version” of a popular property. And the series finding itself within the framework of the YA audience could pose its own problems by leaning on the tropes the genre often perpetuates. Thankfully the shift in perspective from Arthur to the Lady of the Lake feels worthy of exploration on its own in a surprising way. Nimue and Arthur’s budding romance may even be the most compelling element of the series but it's not the sole appeal of the show. Cursed taking the classic Arthurian tale and turning it into a teen's heroic journey definitely works.

Daniel Sharman as the Weeping Monk in Cursed

(Image credit: (Netflix))

The 'Star Wars' Approach To Cursed Revives Its Fatigued Material

One aspect of Cursed that shakes up other King Arthur stories is that it goes a little "Star Wars" with it. When you think about it, King Arthur is the kind of folktale George Lucas must have borrowed from when crafting his own lore centered around a galaxy far, far away. I mean come on… a special sword being the center of a man’s path to glory, it’s right there! But in the case of Cursed, Nimue is the Luke or Rey character (pick your trilogy) and her magic combined with the power of the Devil’s Tooth is “The Force” so to say.

I won’t give it away if you haven’t had a chance to check the series out yet, but look out for the moment that is very reminiscent of The Last Jedi midway through the first season. Because these characters have well-known names in the fabric of popular culture, there’s an aspect of fate and prophecy within Cursed that is fun to watch play out when the writers are already playing with expectations. A second season has yet to be announced, but there’s a lot more room for the series to do more Star Wars stuff while staying in its own corner. Cursed is a YA series, but it's also very much a fantasy story that is leaning into its lore and both of these aspects work well together.

The Cursed take on the King Arthur legend is effective in switching up the classic folklore not only in an unexpected way, but to a new audience too. The Netflix series isn’t executed perfectly (it has some tonal issues that should be worked if Season 2 happens). Viewers should be patient, it takes a few episodes for the story to kick in. Once it does it is an exciting new version of an old fantasy story. What did you think about Cursed? Vote in our poll below and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more TV coverage.

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.