Carnival Row is a new fantasy series starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevinge. All episodes now available on Amazon Prime.
Episodes viewed: S1X01 ‘Some Dark God Wakes’ & S1X02 ‘Aisling Review’ No spoilers.
Amazon Prime has been producing some diverse series recently, including Bosch, Jack Ryan, Good Omens and The Boys.
This time they give us Carnival Row, a mix of fantasy and Jack the Ripper-style police procedural.
We learn that The Burgue lost a war to their enemies The Pact, trying to exploit the riches in the land of the Fae. The Fae, running from persecution are now the servants to the humans of The Burgue.
Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad) stars as Vignette, a “Fae” that we first meet in a forest saving young Fae fleeing from soldiers and hounds. Her appearance is striking for she is immediately flying around the hound and throttling it. Great special effects really sell this alternative reality.
Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings) stars as a tough police inspector in The Burgue. Philo is determined to find justice, regardless of species in town. This is contrary to the attitude of fellow police, public and officials. In the first episode he is hunting a man who attacks Fae in the town, and this lets us see a little of the life in the area, including the seedy Carnival Row.
LEVELS OF SOCIETY
Groaning under the weight of crime and the tension between species, The Burgue is a proud society still bruised from losing the war, and eating itself from within.
Chancellor of The Burgue Absalom Breakspear (Jared Harris), his wife Piety (Game of Thrones’ Indira Varma) and his son are upper class. As is fading aristocrat Imogen Spunrose (Tamzin Merchant), who is horrified when a “Puck” moves in next door – with a human servant. There goes the neighbourhood.
The opening episodes also show life on the streets, and the conditions experienced by the sub classes of Fae, forced into menial jobs, exposing themselves to violence and exploitation on the streets.
Vignette, forced into becoming a servant for Spunrose, is bound into a tight corset, her wings being restricted and covered. This not only makes her look less Fae, but highlights that kind of flying is prohibited. The symbolism is there if you want to see it.
The series was filmed in the Czech Republic and Prague and the production design is fantastic. Overhead gantries and iron bridges connecting buildings, alongside the belching factories and steam trains evoke the dark satanic mills of industrialised England. One exciting chase near the end of the episode shows of the production design as Bloom pursues a suspect through streets and across rooftops.
Philo and Vignette are wisely kept apart for the bulk of the episodes, following their parallel stories and deepening the mystery of their past secrets.
Just as Philo’s investigation seems resolved, something darker emerges.
“You’re saying magic did this?”
“Magic is just your word for all the things you and yours haven’t yet discovered.”
GROWN UP FANTASY
The graphic imagery a disembowelled Fae lying at a sewage outlet in episode two reminds you that this series is for adults only. The swear count is high, and so far there have been two sex scenes – one involving a Fae – yet nothing feels gratuitous. The “adult” elements of the show add to its atmosphere.
It works on a purely entertainment level, and of course has a deeper subtext about their society – and by extension, ours – if you want to read it that way.
The narrative is carefully structured to provide the world building necessary. It creates the intrigue between the species and hints at the dark mystery between the leads.
Carnival Row provides episode by episode thrills, but cultivates longer-term narrative strands which will weave together as the series goes on.
The series has a limited run of eight episodes. All are available to stream on Amazon Prime now.