The story of King Arthur can vary widely depending on which version of it you read. But there are some things that are constant - a wizard named Merlin, a Round Table, and Arthur's possession of a magical and powerful sword known as Excalibur. In some versions of this story - thanks for this, T.H. White - Arthur pulls the sword from a stone, but in most he acquires it from a mysterious woman named Nimue, who is better known as the Lady of the Lake.
Despite the fact that this woman is a key piece of Arthur's rise to power (and Merlin's fall from it, in many stories), she's generally depicted as more magical creature than real person, and given next to zero agency or choice in anything that happens to her or her kingdom. Look, Arthurian legend is messy and often not particularly feminist. (Sorry about literally everything, Guinevere.)
But, happily, Netflix is here to try and change that with Cursed, an adaptation based on an illustrated YA graphic novel from author Tom Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller that finally decides to tell the story of the woman who gave Arthur the sword that changed his life. The streaming service has released its first batch of photos from the upcoming fantasy series and it sort of looks like the general vibe they were going for is a sort of The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Rings feel.
Basically, sign me up right now.
Katherine Langford, the breakout star from Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why, stars as Nimue, whose destiny is indeed to one day become the tragic Lady of the Lake. But that's still a far distance in her future here. As the series begins, she's still grieving the death of her mother as the threat from King Uther's Red Paladins grows, and she'll team up with a young Arthur on a search for the famed wizard Merlin, in the hopes of delivering an important and ancient sword.
This isn't the first time that the story of Arthur has been repackaged as a high fantasy coming of age drama - the BBC series Merlin is wonderful if you've never seen it - but this is the first time that the story has been so firmly centered on a female character instead of the future king himself in some way. Plus, it's not exactly like there's a firm canon regarding the Lady of the Lake's history - many bits of Arthuriana can't even agree on whether she has a name - so the show has plenty of room to manuever here.
While on her journey, Nimue will apparently become a symbol of courage and rebellion to those standing up against the oppressive rule of King Uther. (How very Katniss Everdeen of her!) Does that mean she might try and claim a share of power for herself? For the people of her kingdom? The tagline of Wheeler's book on which this show is based asks “What if the sword has chosen a queen?”, after all.
At the end of the day, I'm always here for stories of medieval girls taking charge of their own destinies with swords, and the bittersweet knowledge of the fate that awaits Nimue in the end no matter what she might accomplish here adds an appealing frisson of tragedy to everything. Women can't ever be allowed to win in the end, after all. Even if the sword did choose her first.
The series synopsis describes the show as follows.
Cursed is a reimagining of the Arthurian legend, told through the eyes of Nimue, a teenage heroine with a mysterious gift who is destined to become the powerful (and tragic) Lady of the Lake. After her mother's death, she finds an unexpected partner in Arthur, a young mercenary, in a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword. Over the course of her journey, Nimue will become a symbol of courage and rebellion against the terrifying Red Paladins, and their complicit King Uther.
Langford is joined by a cast that includes Devon Terrell as Arthur, Sebastian Armesto as Uther, and, in a truly inspired bit of casting, Gustaf Skarsgård as Merlin.
Vikings fans will remember him as Floki, a half-mad religious figure who was basically the closest television's ever gotten to depicting the true Merlin, who may or may have not been based on the real-life mad Welsh poet known as Myrddin Wyllt. In short, he's going to be great in this role.
Cursed doesn't have a release date yet, but is expected to drop on Netflix this summer. Does it sound like something you'd watch?