Different generations have been telling their own versions of the Arthurian story for more than a thousand years. In the earliest stories, Arthur was a powerful and bloodthirsty leader who defended Britain against Saxon invaders.
Twelfth-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes saw him as a virtuous king deceived by Lancelot.
The Victorian Romanticists focused on his quest for the Holy Grail, and by the time of World War II, the radio game The Saviors had him as the epitome of heroic British opposition to expectations.
In recent decades, we’ve watched him relegate to a fun story about magic in shows like Merlin.
Ten-part Netflix series Cursed, focuses on the Lady of the Lake as it depicts the period before Arthur became king. In the photo: Katherine Langford as Nimue with the sacred sword
But now comes the latest version of the legend, Cursed, arriving on Netflix this week, and it’s a true King Arthur for the 21st century through Game Of Thrones. There is romance, mysticism, battles, religious extremism, genocide, refugees … and a mixed race Arthur.
The main character is a woman named Nimue, who has so far only had a small part in the legend as the Lady of the Lake who hands Arthur his magic sword Excalibur.
“The stories of King Arthur are the original sacred text for fantasy lovers,” said Tom Wheeler, who wrote Cursed, together with Cursed graphic writer Frank Miller, based on a bestseller they wrote together.
“Some of my earliest memories are that I run around with my toy sword with toy swords to the songs of the musical Camelot, which my mother would play at home.
“There are so many characters who spoke to me as a little boy – Merlin the wizard, King Arthur, the knight Galahad – and I thought it would be nice to have a legend who spoke to my daughter. The women in the stories are usually witches or temptresses, so I thought it would be a good idea to make a heroine for these stories.
‘The story of the Lady of the Lake has always interested me. She was so puzzling. Who offered this woman the sword? It feels like she is a tragic character, but also magical, which made it exciting and challenging. ‘
The ten-part series depicts the period before young Arthur became king and established his Knights of the Round Table.
The series begins with Nimue discovering that the Red Paladins have looted the site after meeting the handsome stranger Arthur. In the photo: Devon Terrell as young Arthur
It starts with Nimue (played by Australian actress Katherine Langford, who stars in the Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why) who is bullied by her fellow villagers. Although she is part of the magical Fey people, the dark power of her magic means she is considered cursed.
The Fey are wiped out by extremist monks, the Red Paladins, who want to free the world from the ‘unclean’ by fire and blood.
One afternoon, after leaving her village and meeting a handsome stranger named Arthur, Nimue returns home to discover that the Red Paladins have looted the place. Her dying mother gives Nimue a sword and demands that she bring it to Merlin.
And so begins a coming-of-age quest in which Nimue will become a rebel leader trying to protect the Fey from their most vicious enemy, The Weeping Monk. On the way, she finds Arthur again and meets a brave non-in-training, Igraine.
At the same time, we see a nation come up in flames as Merlin, seen as a wise mentor to Arthur for so long, has gone drinking because he’s so disappointed in the world.
“The legend is always about the king and the knights, while the Lady of the Lake is overlooked,” says Katherine.
So it was spectacular to tell her story. It is the beginning before Arthur is king, and there is unrest. Nimue and everyone on her side are fighting for everyone who is different.
At the same time, we see a nation on fire while Merlin, pictured, has been seen as a wise mentor to Arthur for so long, because he’s so disillusioned with the world.
There’s a reason this story has gone on for centuries – it resonates with us. The things they struggle with are universal and still relevant. ‘
Katherine’s fellow Australian Devon Terrell, best known for playing a young Barack Obama in the biographical film Barry, plays Arthur in a way we’ve never seen before.
Instead of the innocent young squire, this Arthur is a charming mercenary. “He’s a young man who has made mistakes in life and learns from them,” says Devon.
“This is also a journey for him. Thanks to Nimue, he discovers that there is more to him than he ever realized. We know he will be king, but it is interesting how he got there. ‘
It is the first time that this old British king is played on the screen by a non-white actor and for Devon – whose father is African American and mother Anglo-Indian – the role is a dream he never thought possible.
“I have always loved fantasy and the TV series Merlin was one of my favorites as a kid, but as a person of color I never saw myself in a show like this,” he says.
“I never saw anyone who looked like I was on screen in fantasy. Since it’s a myth, I don’t see why stories can’t be told from a different perspective.
Co-creator Tom Wheeler revealed that he included elements of The Hunger Games in the series, which was shot in Wales and at the Langley Studios in Slough. Picture: the vicious crying monk
“There are magical and strange creatures, so I don’t know why an actor unlike the Arthurs who came before him would offend someone.
‘I find it exciting to think that there are children who are inspired by this to enter the industry. Sometimes you have to be the first. The show is about learning that anything is possible – it’s more than just a knight in shiny armor. ‘
Recorded in Wales and at Langley Studios in Slough, the series has been compared to Game Of Thrones, but Tom Wheeler has also incorporated elements of The Hunger Games.
“The violence and the emotion really feel,” says Tom, who would like to make five series. ‘I also see it as a fantasy version of The Fugitive. Nimue is on the run and has this enormous pressure and so many obstacles that she can fulfill her mission.
“I have a problem with all kinds of fundamentalism and we see how the old world of magic collides with the church and how many things don’t change.
Bigotry and guilt and expropriated people still exist, and that can be included in the Arthurian canon. Characters have always been added to this mythology. We test its flexibility. ‘
Cursed is available on Netflix from Friday.