A Discovery of Witches
By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Some violence, romantic complications in book-to-TV show.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Intriguing notions of will are wound into this magical tale, like when a vampire asks another if he'd gotten consent from a human before trying to turn him into a vampire. A witch is also reluctant to use her powers, although she eventually decides to do so.
Positive Role Models
Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont are both academics, presenting a fine message about the value of scholarship and history. However, this show glances over Diana's academic work (which is more important in the novels), making her a less impressive figure than she could have been. Both vampires and witches struggle to keep from hurting others (though they frequently do).
Violence & Scariness
Violence is sporadic but can be bloody, often has a supernatural edge: After his friend is hit by a car, a vampire tries to bring him back to life by slashing his wrist and dripping blood into his mouth; a witch hurls a knife at a man's leg and then casts a magical spell that surrounds him with fire as he sinks mysteriously into the earth. Bicyclists don't wear helmets when they ride on busy city streets.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters are single and attractive; expect romantic complications, kissing, flirting, dating, references to sex. Flirting can have a menaching edge that may make parents uncomfortable: "What are you going to do, rip my head off to get the truth out of me?" Diana asks Matthew at a tense moment; he answers, "I could. But that's not how I operate." Later he tells her to "walk, but don't run" away so he can resist attacking her.
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Language is mild but there's the occasional epithet: "Christ!" and "superstitious crap."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Vampires drink wine in this show, in contrast to traditional vampire myths. Scenes take place in pubs; no one acts drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Discovery of Witches is based on the All Souls trilogy of books by Deborah Harkness about a supernatural book that's discovered by a witch, setting off a battle between all the supernatural beings living in the modern world. The tone of the show is serious and dramatic, but the content is fine for mature tweens and up. Violence is intermittent and often involves supernatural powers: A witch makes a magic ring of fire around a man before he's swallowed into a giant hole; a vampire drips blood into his friend's mouth in an attempt to bring him back to (vampiric) life after he's killed in a car accident. Violence and/or threats of violence can play a part in romantic moments too, like when a vampire vaguely threatens to hurt a witch in order to get information out of her, and advises her to "walk, but don't run" away if she wants to avoid being attacked by him after he's aroused by her scent on a jacket. Expect flirting, dating, kissing, and references to sex. Language is mild: "Christ!" and "crap." Some characters drink wine, including vampires; no one acts drunk.
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A Discovery of Witches
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What's the Story?
Based on the All Souls trilogy by author Deborah Harkness, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES zeroes in on academic and reluctant witch Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), who is researching the history of alchemy in a library at Oxford when she's unexpectedly able to summon an ancient magical manuscript. Missing for hundreds of years, Ashmole-782 seems to be a book with great powers that's been sought by many in the occult world. Chief among them: Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), an Oxford professor who also just happens to be an immortal vampire. As the witches, demons, and vampires who have been living quietly around England and the rest of the world start to realize how powerful Diana really is, forces begin gathering for an almighty battle: one that may force Matthew and Diana into an unholy union.
Is It Any Good?
Coming off as a sort of Twilight for adults -- or an Outlander that wouldn't make you blush if you watched it with your grandma -- this supernatural show has a cool premise and a slow burn. A world with otherworldly beings and doings hidden just beneath the surface of the everyday world is often a potent setting -- just ask Harry Potter, or Dorothy Gale -- and A Discovery of Witches juices things up still further by locating itself at Oxford, one of the world's oldest universities, where ancient buildings and a dusty old library add dignity to the proceedings. The chemistry between Palmer's Bishop and Goode's Clairmont is juicy, too, lining viewers up for any number of ship-worthy magical-battle-turning-into-foreplay sessions.
The seen-it nature of this drama keeps it from ascending into the TV stratosphere: Magical beings trying to deny their powers have been a staple of TV shows all the way back to Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, and this show's set of brooding vampires navel-gazing about their origins and place in the modern world seem ripped directly from any number of Anne Rice novels. Still, the leads are gorgeous, their forbidden love fun, and a looming cataclysmic paranormal brawl between mystical creatures lends some dramatic oomph. If magical tales are your thing -- particularly if you've read the series it's based on -- this show may be worth a peek.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about who A Discovery of Witches is aimed at. Teenagers? People in their 80s? People of another age? Men? Women? Children? How can you tell? How old are the main characters? Is that usually a good way to judge the intended audience?
People often say that the book version of a story is better than the TV show or movie. Why do they say that? Have you read the books this show is based on? Which do you prefer: book or TV show? What was left out of the TV show, or what was added? Did this make the story better or worse?
Where do you think A Discovery of Witches was shot? Was it shot, as the majority of shows are, in a studio in Los Angeles? How can you tell? What, if anything, does it add to the show to have realistic footage of London and other European cities?
- Premiere date: January 17, 2019
- Cast: Matthew Goode, Alex Kingston, Teresa Palmer
- Network: Sundance Channel
- Genre: Drama
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: April 3, 2023
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