Amazon wow’d me a little while ago with their series “The Boys”. It is seriously one of my favourites shows of the year, and if they continue on the trajectory, they started with that season it will go on to become one of my favourite shows ever. The latest Amazon original series is Carnival Row. Based in a fantastical Victorian style world with magic and creatures mixing with humans. Starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne alongside a stellar supporting cast, it has all the ingredients of a good show.
Carnival Row is attempting to bring us a world that has been tried several times in many different mediums. For me the Victorian style mixed with fantasy never quite hits the spot. It makes me think of games like Bloodborne or The Order 1886, both of which did the Victorian fantasy mash up, but I couldn’t get into. I went into Carnival Row expecting it to have the same struggle, but I was surprised that a couple of episodes in I just wanted to watch more.
A big part of that, and my personal favourite element of the show, is the intriguing relationship between Orlando Bloom as Philo and Cara Delevingne as Vignette. As it develops through the show you find out more and more about their past together, and Episode 3 was one of the high points in the show where their relationship is brought into focus.
For a while it seemed to me like Orlando Bloom would always be known for Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. He has been in other films and shows, but I always see him as Legolas or Will Turner. Here is the first role since those ones that I can say I really bought into his character and enjoyed his performance. Philo is an interesting character and one with layers of history that we uncover through the main plot, and the reveal about him is nicely done and plays into the overall narrative of Carnival Row.
As for Cara Delevingne, I consider this her best role to date. My exposure to her as an actress is limited to Suicide Squad, where I thought she was okay, but her character was just a bit odd. In Carnival Row’s Vignette, she’s given a character with a lot of meat and motivations that are justified. She’s a strong woman and is uncomfortable with the role the society expects her kind to fulfil, which plays out in a variety of ways that Cara pulls off well.
One of the biggest issues Carnival Row has for me is that is almost benches these two characters in exchange for a political story for what felt like a long while. Everything is interconnected in a way, but I felt the two halves of the whole were very disjointed until the reveal near the end of the season. It makes sense overall just I managed to guess the reveal before it happened because of the clear change in focus.
That main story is broken up with a very interesting sub plot between the upper classes of the city, where we get some good performances. I enjoyed how this plot is delivered alongside the other one and given its own importance and story. If done poorly, this would have been an annoying distraction from the main story, but I enjoyed the variation. Simon McBurney, Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi play out this class-based Beauty and the Beast with a twist story brilliantly and in the final episodes I found myself enjoying their plot line as much as the main one.
That main plot line with Philo, Vignette and the politics starts strong, but ends flat. I understood the motivations of all involved, but due to the late introduction of some characters and the short screen time of others, I just didn’t really care about anyone outside of those two main characters.
Carnival Row is a solid start to a new show. It has potential to become a much bigger story, with the intrigue and politics beginning to suggest a power struggle on top of the class war that is dividing the city already. The shows message about everyone being equal is heavy handed at times, but I never found it too offensive. I think the show could go on to a much better second season, but the first season is worth a watch on its own. Carnival Row is streaming now on Amazon Prime, so most of you will have access to it.
Good: Interesting world built that I want to see more stories in, several great performances, Orlando Bloom pulls off a bowler cap well.
Bad: Peaks in the first half of the season and some characters are underdeveloped for the role they play in the overall narrative.
7/10 – Solid Start for a new show.