Carnival Row Review: Amazon Serves Up an Injection of Fantasy for the Fall

Carnival Row
Review of: Carnival Row
Streaming show:
René Echevarria and Travis Beacham
Version:
Season 1
Price:
Free with Amazon Prime

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On October 14, 2019
Last modified:October 16, 2019

Summary:

A non-traditional fantasy built around common fantasy elements. Strong on social commentary with enough solid performances, world-building, intrigue and horror elements to keep viewers who need a new fantasy injection satisfied.

Carnival Row Review:

A non-traditional fantasy built around common fantasy elements. Strong on social commentary with enough solid performances, world-building, intrigue and horror elements to keep viewers who need a new fantasy injection satisfied.

Carnival Row Review
All photos credit Jan Thijs (2018) via Amazon Prime Video from ekp.tv.

A Carnival Row review:

On March 29, 1516, the Jews of the Venetian Republic were segregated into what has become known as the Venetian Ghetto. Since then any time real people or fantasy beings find themselves compelled to live on a particular street, the Venetian Ghetto becomes the historical memory that creates the foundation of the experience.

What the ghetto really achieves is a physical manifestation of fear, a constant reminder of a society’s inability to adapt, and a purulent confrontation with cowardice.

A ghetto known as Carnival Row, or “The Row,” houses the nexus of tension in Amazon’s steam-punk inspired Victorian take on war and its aftermath.

Carnival Row does not offer any subtle distinctions between humans and fae (fairies and other non-human beings)—even the most human-looking are born with wings.

The initial eight episodes of Carnival Row packs in a lot of backstories, along with a convoluted murder plot that includes monsters, magic, and secrets of heredity. Unlike Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones or Amazon’s own The Expanse, this far-flung fantasy does not arrive with prose as a framing mechanism. Carnival Row’s characters appear fresh and new. Mastering this world requires viewers, their attention spans, the storytellers to make sense of the detail and the history. And for the most part, they succeed.

Carnival Row Review

Carnival Row: The Story

Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) lie at the heart of the story, one of love, broken hearts, betrayal, reconciliation and secrets.

I had no problem following the various plots, the backstory of war, of promises broken, of migrant oppression and fascination with the other even as the victors demean, ostracize and humiliate the Fae, the Fauns and other species of Tirnanoc.

Carnival Row Review

Species and name change the associations of oppression without altering the generic us and them dynamic. Along with the central framing story, and the love between Philostrate and Stonemoss, there are stories of politics driven more by family dynamics than civic pride and a murder investigation. Save the accents of the police squad, those wearing badges could easily have been swapped out for the officers of the CW’s Gotham. Plenty of jack-booted bigots for all.

And then there is the tentative but growing affection between a Burgue second-tier socialite and her Tirnanoc neighbor. As the push to build higher walls between the groups increases not just in volume, but in action, the edges of conviction begin to erode. As in all human relationships, once acquaintance moves beyond distance and objectification, common ground prevails.

Several subplots and flashbacks keep the Carnival Row world cohesive without too much overt exposition.

Setting and Atmosphere

Carnival Row looks like the Northwest United Kingdom. Grey and murky, a heavy cloud across everything.

Burgeoning science rises among magic. Nowhere does Carnival Row feel familiar, but neither does it appear totally alien.

Carnival Row Review

A Tirnanoc museum asserts a macabre reminder that the victors and the defeated share a fascination with difference that leads to the objectification of those who represent the difference. Placing artifacts into displays and historical context attempts to replace the guilt of complicity with an elevated intellectual fascination aimed at respect but misses the mark completely.

A Tirnanoc museum asserts a macabre reminder that the victors and the defeated share a fascination with difference that leads to the objectification of those who represent the difference. Placing artifacts into displays and historical context attempts to replace the guilt of complicity with an elevated intellectual fascination aimed at respect but misses the mark completely.

Truth lives in Carnival Row among the oppressed of another society bound not only in clothing that masks their nature but by a ghetto that seeks to segregate what remains from contaminating the purity of the incumbent. What the ghetto really achieves is a physical manifestation of fear, a constant reminder of a society’s inability to adapt, and a purulent confrontation with cowardice.

Carnival Row Performances

Delevingne offers a much more nuanced and connective portrayal than her previous other worldly turn in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Bloom brings a tortured chip on his shoulder performance to Philostrate.

Tamzin Merchant does a good turn as Imogen Spurnrose, a socialite failing toward hard times after the death of her father and the mismanagement of the estate by her brother. She embodies all the prejudice and xenophobia of The Burgue until she meets Agreus Astrayon, a Tirnanoc who has found fortune and moves into the Sphrunrose’s upscale neighborhood. Upon discovery of her impending misfortune, Imogen seeks to leverage Astrayon through deception, but her abhorrence slowly turns toward more positive feelings as the two find common ground among the gentry.

Carnival Row Review
David Gyasi and Tamzin Merchant

Alice Krige as the witch Haruspex and Jared Harris as Absalom Breakspear turn in excellent performances as well, as does Simoon McBurney as the theatrical Runyan Millworthy.

Should you join the Carnival Row audience?

Despite the derivative nature of the premise the details quickly engage. Some will likely make comparisons to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Game of Thrones but those shows exist on a much grander scale. This eight-episode entry into the Amazon archives delivers plenty of intrigue, world-building and social commentary with enough horror to fill the needs of those yearning for an injection of fantasy into their fall.

 


Read more like this Carnival Row Review from BestEntertainmentReviews.com on Amazon shows like The Boys here.

A non-traditional fantasy built around common fantasy elements. Strong on social commentary with enough solid performances, world-building, intrigue and horror elements to keep viewers who need a new fantasy injection satisfied.

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