Available on the Netflix catalog since last July 17 and for days at the top of the ranking of the most viewed series in Italy, Cursed is a fantasy series based on one of the most loved and revisited myths ever: that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
In the series, based on the novel of the same name Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, however, the protagonist is Nimue (Katherine Langford), a young warrior destined to become the Lady of the Lake. The reversal of point of view, which for once leaves that of Arthur, already suggests how Cursed be one reinterpretation of the myth that we all know. However, the series doesn't just shift attention from one protagonist to another, but completely rewrites some of the dynamics we have always been used to in Arthurian matters.
But which canon?
Before we start talking about what the main changes are Cursed made to the myth of King Arthur, it is good to emphasize that the same legend has been repeatedly modified and with different versions.
What we all know and which is usually the subject of remakes and reinterpretations is the so-called Brittany Matter, known more simply as Arthurian cycle. Crystallized in medieval times, this version of history sees King Arthur venture with the Knights of the Round Table on missions whose aim is the recovery of the Holy Grail, but also the exaltation of Arthur as a man and as a monarch.
The Arthurian cycle is covered in many works, including those of the prolific French writer Chrétien de Troyes, which in turn reworks those of the British Embossed Monmouth, and has the merit of focusing as much on its protagonist as on the characters who act alongside it, like Lancelot, Geneva, Morgana, Mordred, Merlin and many others. Although there is therefore no real Arthurian canon, by convention, we will refer to this version of the legend to examine its relationship with Cursed.
The Lady of the Lake
Protagonist of Cursed it is therefore Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, present here in a new adolescent role. The Lady of the Lake is one of the most fickle characters in the Arthurian cycle, which depending on the version even has different names ranging from Nimue, in fact, to Viviana and Coventina.
Not only that, although its main role is to deliver Excalibur to Arthur, there are stories that see it more tied to Lancelot, who would have raised like a son, and others who see her protagonist of a love story with Merlin, who would have seduced and then imprisoned. In no version of the past, however, the Lady of the Lake experiences feelings for Arthur, nor is she represented as Merlin's daughter – as happens in CursedThe series then adds another unpublished element in the legend: the Sword of Power, before designating Arthur as King of Britain, would have chosen another owner, or rather another. Cursed never calls it Excalibur, but it is implied that the sword disputed between Nimue and Uther Pendragon is precisely the legendary blade of King Arthur, also with the name of Devil's tooth. In Netflix's work, moreover, the sword has a special bond with Merlin which in the legend does not have: in fact it seems inextricably connected to the magical power of the druid, in addition to the fact that for a certain period it was within his body – the series, however, does not explain if it originated there or if it ended there somehow.
That the protagonist of Cursed both Nimue and not Arthur (Devon Terrell), as traditional stories would like, is the first major innovation that the series operates towards the Breton ruler. The character is however modified and even upset, in a totally new way not only with respect to medieval stories, but also to more recent reinterpretations.
In Cursedin fact, Arthur is not a budding ruler nor a teenage squire, but rather a mercenary with a dark past and sometimes questionable morals. Son of this Tor and not of Uther Pendragon, who in the series is a twenty-six year old king absolutely unrelated to Arthur and Morgana, the Art of Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller is a boy harassed by the debts left to him by his father, which forced him to pursue a career in which he does not believe fully .
In short, of the literary Artù there is only a certain propensity to heroism, demonstrated above all in the last episodes of the series: for the rest it is a completely new and unexplored character. Which, by the way, is not even certain is destined to become king, since the plans of the showrunners for the future of the series are not yet known.
Also Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), which the legend calls "the fairy", is represented in Cursed in a decidedly different way than usual. Arthur's sister in the series and stepsister in the book, in a more adherent to the myth, Morgana is one of Nimue's main helpers in the affair, from which also transpires the affection the girl has for her brother. In Arthurian legends, on the contrary, Morgana is almost always antagonist of Arthur and often and willingly is painted as the main conspirator for the end of the half-brother's reign.
However, what Morgana and Cursed Morgana have in common is the magic. In the series, in fact, Morgana is promised by the spider goddess Cailleach to be destined to become a powerful sorceress – prediction that comes true at the end of the series, when the girl kills the Widow and takes her place. In the Middle Ages, Morgana was described as "the fairy", or "le Fey" in English, an epithet due precisely to its magical powers that differentiated it from other characters – to be noted as the Fey, in Cursed, are a magical people persecuted by religious fanatics, an aspect absolutely not present in the Matter of Brittany.
The last of the most substantial changes that Cursed work with respect to its source material interests Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgard), here represented in a totally different way than the wise wizard which the legend has always accustomed us to. In contrast, the Netflix series Merlin is a druid who has lost his magical abilities, alcohol fan and with behaviors much more similar to Jack Sparrow by Johnny Depp than any other previous Merlin representation.
The legend also wants Merlin to be particularly linked to King Arthur, of which he would even be the architect of conception – thanks to his magic, the union between Uther and Igraine would have been able to produce such a wise and legendary ruler. Although his precise role in Arthur's life changes from version to version, the magician is generally portrayed as his counselor, guardian and helper.
All this does not exist in Cursed, where Merlin and Arthur act on two completely separate floors: both want to protect Nimue, but there is absolutely no relationship between them handed down to us by Arthurian legends. And speaking of the loneliness of Arthur in Cursed, deprived of his most faithful allies compared to the legend, the appeal is also missing Lancelot: from inevitable presence at the court of King Arthur, in Cursed it becomes the Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), among the main antagonists of the story.