Orlando blooms in the gloam of Carnival Row
Since Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hobbit trilogy, Orlando Bloom has been coasting beneath the surface. He’s tried to break into the gun-wielding action hero scene with roles in forgettable movies like Unlocked and S.M.A.R.T. Chase, but nothing seems to stick.
Until Carnival Row, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. We’ll put good money on the predication that Bloom has many seasons ahead of him as Rycroft Philostrate or “Philo” as his fae friends call him – a Sherlock Holmes-esque inspector in the city of Burgue.
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Think 1920s London with Zeppelins and mythical creatures, think Golden Compass, think Peaky Blinders, think Penny Dreadful. Don’t think Game of Thrones (other reviewers need to stop over-thinking things, really). Carnival Row is a Victorian steampunk fantasy and it will remind you of all kinds of familiar settings, but thanks to the world-building of screenwriter Travis Beacham, who was also behind Pacific Rim, it stands on its own.
Philo is on the hunt for a serial killer who is targetting the residents of Carnival Row, which leads him to a much larger political conspiracy, and may even unlock secrets from his own past. Bloom clocks in a strong performance, and it’s nice to see a new side to his talents in a mainstream TV series.
But it’s Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), with her Irish accent and elfin features who delivers the most astonishing performance. Where Bloom is more subtle, she is all savage emotion in her role as Vignette.
Other stand-out characters include Tamzin Merchant as the prim and conniving Imogen Spurnrose, who must try to save the family fortunes before she and her brother are cast out from polite society. And Agreus the fiercely proud Puck, played by a smouldering David Gyansi, who is the Spurnroses’s new neighbour and desperate to be accepted by polite (human) society. The scenes where they’re together are electric.
Jared Harris, who we most recently saw in Chernobyl, is fabulous as the puffed-up but desperately sincere Absalom Breakspear, who is chancellor of the Republic of the Burgue and the axis of all the political drama in the story.
With its heavy-handed themes of xenophobia and racism, and perhaps too many storylines (monsters, serial killers, political intrigue, love stories and tales of woe), Carnival Row has suffered under the ministrations of professional reviewers, but mainstream audiences are here for the escapism.
And the fairy sex, lots and lots of fairy sex.
Carnival Row has been renewed for a second season.