Review: ‘Carnival Row’ is Mysterious, Alluring, and Downright Magical


Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Carnival Row — Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming binge-worthy hit.

Fourteen years ago, an unproduced film script entitled A Killing on Carnival Row found its way on the Black List, an annual survey where Hollywood executives rank their favorite unmade screenplays. In the years following, Travis Beacham’s promising creation drifted into somewhat of a film rights purgatory, searching for a proper home to bring the story to life.

This is where Amazon comes in. Amazon Prime Video has become a fierce competitor in the entertainment streaming market in recent years, introducing an impressive array of high-quality original television shows on a fairly regular basis. A couple of years ago, A Killing on Carnival Row came under Amazon’s radar, and the long-awaited project was finally given the green light to become a reality that would be known as Carnival Row. And so began the production process — from the script to the screen.

Carnival Row is a neo-Victorian fantasy noir television series, starring Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad, Paper Towns). It follows the story of a human detective, Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Bloom) and a faerie, Vignette Stonemoss (Delevingne), as they rekindle a dangerous love affair amidst murder mysteries and political unrest in the bustling city of The Burgue.

Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

The introductory season of Carnival Row consists of eight one-hour episodes, which are all an intense ride from start to finish. The binge-factor is also off the charts, as viewers may find themselves with a mighty need to watch it all in just a couple of sittings.

Typically, one could sometimes expect the premiere season of a television show to be an exercise in searching for the magic moment where it all clicks. This isn’t the case with Carnival Row — all eight episodes flow beautifully from start to finish, and every punch hits hard in exactly the right places. It’s clear that the season was polished to perfection before production wrapped, with ample time given to appraise the final product and conduct re-shoots as necessary.

Speaking of production, the overall quality of this show is exceptional. The set design, the soundtrack, the costume design, and the makeup are all incredibly impressive. A period piece, with the added hurdle of fantasy elements, is far less forgiving than a modern television show if one of the aforementioned components is not up to par. Carnival Row took on a challenging feat — a looming city with handsome architecture and dark alleyways, hauntingly beautiful music, a variety of humanoid creatures with various appendages (horns, wings, hooves), and wardrobes that range from upper class Victorian to rugged, otherworldly creatures — and knocked it out of the park.

As if the beautiful set production wasn’t enough, the script feeds riveting, smart, and witty dialogue into the story as it unravels. Viewers will find a deep appreciation for the time spent ensuring conversations between characters were layered and meaningful, adding further depth to a wonderfully complex story.

It’s like the wolf was what you were all along underneath it all, and the bite was just permission to stop pretending.

Bloom and Delevingne have a fiery chemistry that makes them a perfect leading pair for this series, as they crash in and out of one another’s orbit throughout the course of the season with a palpable, burning intensity. Bloom’s character, Philo, carries himself with a practiced swagger, hiding a raw vulnerability buried deep within himself. Audiences will find themselves eager to learn of the past heartache and painful secrets that Bloom teases underneath Philo’s cool and collected exterior. Delevingne’s Vignette, on the other hand, is truly a force to be reckoned with. She plays a passionate, strong-willed character that readily breaks down the preconceived notions of a typical female lead in a Victorian love story.

Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

The rest of the cast is equally brilliant, as they portray a group of fascinatingly dynamic characters that push their limits and break free from a tired and static trajectory. Tazmin Merchant’s Imogen Spurnrose, in particular, has a gripping arc throughout this season, which will be very interesting to see develop further in future episodes.

Overall, the first season of Carnival Row is brilliantly executed. The underlying mystery of the first season comes to a satisfying conclusion by the final episode, which allows it to be viewed as a conclusive chapter within a much larger story that is yet untold. Fear not, though, as other intriguing plot points are intricately weaved throughout the threads of season one as well. These events began to unravel and burst throughout the course of the explosive finale, leaving promises of an extraordinary season two (which has already been confirmed!) in their wake.

In a world of entertainment where the status quo is films and television based off of books and endless remakes, Carnival Row is a breath of fresh air that tells a thrillingly unique and original tale. Fantasy fans searching for something new in a post-Westeros world of television, after the series conclusion of Game of Thrones earlier this year, will find that Carnival Row will not only scratch that itch, it will also leave you hungrily wanting more. This intriguingly elaborate world filled with political drama, class wars, romance, mystery, murder, lies, and betrayal is certain to be a hit among fans and critics alike.

Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Carnival Row will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on August 30, so mark your calendars and don’t miss out what’s certain to be your new favorite television show.

Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. If she's not writing or out and about with her camera, she's probably watching anime, nerding out over Star Wars, reading manga, and definitely forgetting to water her plants. And waiting for the Genshin loading screen to pop up. Contact:

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