A Discovery of Witches: the steamiest inter-species romance ever
Suspension of disbelief is an odd thing. It’s loosely defined as the willingness to overlook logic and facts to allow the enjoyment of fantasy. As television viewers, we do this automatically on a daily basis to one extent or another. The enormous popularity of the supernatural genre – witches, vampires, werewolves, zombies and so on – makes it a pretty standard requirement.
But as much as we can accept the existence of these creatures for the sake of a good story, there are some details that need to be nitpicked.
For example, in A Discovery of Witches, there is a location in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon where The Congregation, a committee of representatives from each of three magical races, meet.
It’s apparently invisible to humans, shimmering into existence as it is approached by its demon, witch and vampire members. All of whom are perfectly acceptable under the circumstances, but how do humans not bump into it? Is it there, or is it not there? This bugged me throughout the eight episodes, the same way Rick Grimes wearing a watch in The Walking Dead does. (Where does he have to be at 4pm anyway?)
A Discovery of Witches is based on the All Souls trilogy of books by Deborah Harkness, and when you watch the last episode, squealing “Noooooo! Don’t stop there! Don’t you DARE!” you can be comforted by the knowledge that the series has been renewed for two more seasons, with the convenient source material of two more books.
When it comes to screen adaptations of books, audiences are always going to be divided. If you’ve read them, chances are you’ll probably say the books are better; that’s just how it goes.
I haven’t, and I loved the show.
It’s set in modern-day England, France and Venice, with a few more exotic locations thrown in for good measure – all beautifully filmed.
Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer, who has many films to her credit; this is her first television role) is a young witch who has little or no control over her rather substantial powers. She’s more of an academic, based in Oxford.
Like Harry Potter, her parents are dead, the circumstances of which are not as they first appear. While doing research in the university library, some mysterious magic stuff goes down with a manuscript she’s reading, and suddenly everyone is interested in Diana and her potential, should she apply herself.
Foremost of these is 1 500-year-old vampire and acclaimed geneticist Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife). Small spoiler alert: despite inter-species mingling being strictly forbidden, Matthew finds Diana irresistibly appealing (she smells fantastic, apparently) and she rather fancies him too, despite the very real possibility he might not be able to control his craving for her and drain her dry.
It’s all very hot and steamy. If there were bodices, they would be ripped.
With this lusty romance at the centre of the story, everyone’s quest to own the book (which, like the place The Congregation meets, has the ability to make itself invisible) revolves around it. Thus the scene is set for a battle between the creatures as Matthew is sworn to protect Diana from those who would harm her. On top of that, they have to overcome their respective families’ prejudices towards their budding relationship.
These are Diana’s vaguely hippy-ish lesbian aunties (Alex Kingston as Sarah Bishop, and Valarie Pettiford as Emily Mather, Sarah’s partner) who raised her in their rather spirited country home after her parents died, and Matthew’s vampire mom Ysabeau de Clermont (Lindsay Duncan) who would scare the living daylights out of any potential girlfriend or wife, irrespective of their supernatural status.
The cast is fleshed out by, among others, Louise Brealey as Gillian Chamberlain, a fellow witch and academic alongside Diana at Oxford, who is not to be trusted, and Malin Buska as Satu Järvinen, a Finnish witch and Congregation member who is in cahoots with Peter Knox (Owen Teale), a high-ranking witch and a member of the Congregation. There is zero subtlety regarding the villainy of these last two.
Something else that is impossible to miss, especially after you’ve watched two or three episodes, is the repeated use of shades of blue throughout. This includes clothing, accessories, even interior décor.
Sometimes it’s solid teal or turquoise, other times it’s picked out in the tiniest details in a floral blouse or picture frame. It’s highlighted further by occasional sharp bright reds, which are on the opposite end of the colour spectrum, creating an eye-popping complement.
It’s interesting and intriguing but at the time of writing, the internet had no answers as to why.