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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cursed is a series based on a 2016 book set in the legendary kingdom of King Arthur, telling the origin story of the Lady of the Lake. Magical violence is frequent, and can be bloody and disturbing. There are many battles with swords and horses; an invading army pillages humble villages and kills many at a time, burning houses, crucifying victims and setting them afire, stabbing them, beating them. A young child is dragged off to his doom. A disturbingly realistic dead baby is shown at length. Male characters threaten sexual violence to female ones. Animals like wolves and a deer are killed bloodily. Language is infrequent, but a character is called a "hag" and a "witch" and told to "piss off." Two characters have sexual tension between them; expect them to flirt, kiss, and begin a relationship. A young female character is central, which is unusual for an Arthurian tale; she's powerful and unique and demonstrates significant courage. The rest of the cast is diverse in terms of ethnicity and race. Many scenes take place at taverns, and a male character is frequently drunk, lurching as he walks and slurring his words.
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What's the story?
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller and Thomas Wheeler, CURSED catches up with the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legend back when she was just a young girl named Nimue (Katherine Langford). Many of the people in her magical village view her as a witch and despise her, yet Nimue's priestess mother, Lenore (Catherine Wilson), knows her daughter has extraordinary powers. When Nimue is chosen as her clan's spiritual leader, she attempts to flee to a new life with her best friend, Pym (Lily Newmark), and makes the acquaintance of a handsome young knight named Arthur (Devon Terrell). Meanwhile, her village is set upon by the Red Paladins, a ruthless band of religious reformers led by Father Carden (Peter Mullan), who are intent on ridding the domain of King Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) of magic, despite relying on the imperfect sorcery of court wizard Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgard), perhaps the only being alive who recognizes what Nimue's powers herald.
Is it any good?
By putting a witchy twist on a familiar tale, this sword-and-sorcery drama casts a spell, particularly for viewers enchanted by the notion of an Arthurian tale with a young female protagonist. There have been plenty of movies, series, and even stage productions that have dramatized the ancient legends of the English king and his magical kingdom: 1981's surreal Excalibur, Disney's animated The Sword in the Stone, even Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but they tend to be focused on the legends' male characters: knights in shining armor, enemy combatants, a conflicted king. But Cursed's gender-flipped linchpin is fresh; her story juicy and new. Arthur's kingdom is a treacherous one; with so many forces arrayed against her, Nimue's situation seems impossible. But as the drama begins, Nimue slowly begins to understand her own powers, and then to wield them, a great big delightful bite of wish fulfillment for any viewers who longed for their own hidden magic.
Cursed isn't perfect. The action takes some time to coalesce, and many will be confused at the end of the first episode just where this story is going. The special effects are occasionally not so special, either: Watch for the wolves in the first episode that look like they might be portrayed by hand puppets in some shots. But with her huge eyes and air of solemn gravity, Langford's Nimue is a compelling lead caught in seemingly impossible circumstances, yet able to wiggle out of trouble and forge a path to what she wants in ways both practical and magical. Skarsgard's Merlin, too, is weird and wonderful: shirtless, sleazy, and duplicitous, yet cannily wary of Nimue's presence and powers when other characters discount a "helpless" young girl. Viewers, prepare to be charmed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the Arthurian legends endure. What about these tales catches people's imagination? What universal human qualities are illustrated by these stories? Why do people continue to be interested in tales about fate, magic, courage, sacrifice?
Most stories set in King Arthur's kingdom focus on male characters; Cursed centers around a young female one. How does this change the story and the action? Are the changes for the better?
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