Carnival Row (2019)
Carnival Row is an Amazon Prime Original property spanning nine episodes, created by Rene Echevarria, known for The 4400, Castle, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was intended initially to be a film in partnership with Guillermo Del Toro, but series co-creator Travis Beacham signed a deal with Amazon that saw it made into a series instead. The echoes of the film are still seen in the Del Toro style the show adopts. The adapted film script itself stretches the course of the show into an indulgent, dark treat.
The World in Motion
The setting is Victorian era with a fantasy twist and cruel whispers of murder at its center. Our lead players in this production are Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. They portray two lovers of different backgrounds embroiled in a Romeo and Juliet scenario amidst tides of war. This central focus fixates on a story of passion that defies the nature of the society they live in. A society where immigration spans different species and humanity is, more often than not, the antagonist. Largely, the tale takes place in The Burgue, a human capital that is now inundated with faeries and other species. Mass crime is afoot in this restless city and the mood is a somber one for all those who set foot there.
Orlando Bloom’s role is that of a bullish detective with a direct approach to matters. He is just and noble, but his measures are often extreme. The character Rycroft Philostrate is our guiding paragon of the story and Bloom engages with it with a great sense of pride. The performance at hand is his best to date. Brought to the table is a warmth beneath a tough exterior and a notion that Bloom has studied heartily a series of different detective pieces. It is the gusto displayed in each episode that drives home a knowing love of the character he is playing. The accent at times can slip, but overall the lovable-yet-brutish detective is a strong perspective to follow in a fresh world.
Cara Delevingne is the yin to Bloom’s yang. Her audience perception as an actor in the past has been rather negative; however, this particular instance is a refreshing turn of pace. Accent notwithstanding, the performance is believable and enjoyable, notably when onscreen with Bloom. Vignette Stonemoss represents the heart of the show. Delevingne gives a layer of strength to a rebel faery bound by the laws of society. As opposed to earlier work Delevingne has featured in, there is an innate urgency in this performance. She convincingly sheds her coat of apathy for a triumphant willpower in this character. The only catch to this powerful on-screen emergence is the less-than-stellar Irish accent. Thankfully, this is a mere hiccup in what is a great turn for Delevingne.
The Weight of The Concept
Carnival Row has a heavy toll on its back. A high cost of concept. A topic of this variety deserves adequate timeframe to cover. Immigration is topical in our modern society; thus, a fantasy-themed take is enthralling. Using the tropes of fantasy to vocalise immigration issues is a fantastic idea. The execution is the key in this regard and from Carnival Row‘s version of it, snippets of brilliance indicate what could be excellent. As a fantasy show itself, it is a fun ride. As a show making a statement, flaws are present the message.
Overwrought is a word to describe the unfolding events of The Burgue and, sadly, the power of its message can be lost in translation. Verging on parody betimes, the ideal of providing a unique viewpoint doesn’t always equal what is required for an entertaining TV series. Certain choices make the series run more action-oriented than needs be. The series runners made a conscious choice for wider appeal here. The blend isn’t fully there. We see a case of “too many cooks” in its presentation. A common complaint by critics has been that the series feels bloated, and this is not really a comment I would dispute. Still, for the ambition of its idea and the fun had along the way, it is a solid endeavour to partake in.
Carnival Row is not worthy of any awards, but it is worthy of your eyes to see. A spectacle that carries nuance not often seen in fantasy shows. A brave counterpart to run-of-the-mill fantasy that chooses not to be reflective of society. Despite how estranged it can be to the world we know, the dour sense of delivery on offer takes a turn down a largely entertaining route. A few blips in the story and general scripting issues don’t detract from an overall intriguing experience. For those who are faint of heart in terms of bad accents, leave this one be. For those who want their fantasy with a bit of spice, do take a venture into The Burgue!