The Winter King cometh: expect skulduggery, might and magic

By Stephen Aspeling14 December 2023

The Winter King cometh: expect skulduggery, might and magic

In the 1980s, John Boorman decided it was too soon to create The Lord of the Rings based on the expanse and expense of the visual effects required to do JRR Tolkien’s fantasy epic justice. So, instead of Frodo and Gandalf, he decided to breathe life into the legend of King Arthur and Merlin. A spellbinding and iconic medieval film, his movie conjures up majestic and surreal visuals of the lady in the lake and knights in gleaming armour to the soul-stirring power of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna. In doing so, Boorman unwittingly captured the imagination of a generation, whose creative outpouring is now being fully realised on screen.  

The dark mythological aspect to Excalibur is echoed in King Arthur and The Northman, taking place against equally beautiful and magical settings. Often depicted in film, the medieval myth and legend of the warrior king has found its way into grand series such as Game of Thrones, Vikings and now The Winter King. Based on The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, this spectacular 10-episode series tells of Arthur’s quest from outcast to lord of war as the warrior evolves to find his true destiny after being ousted as an illegitimate heir to the throne by his father.  

Watch the trailer for The Winter King

The Winter King stars Iain De Caestecker, Stuart Campbell, Ellie James, Nathaniel Martello-White with Simon Merrells and Eddie Marsan. Taking on the heroic role of Arthur is De Caestecker whose introspective journey finds him coming to terms with his warrior bloodlust in a nuanced title performance. Nathaniel Martello-White summons up grace and poise with a refreshing spin on Merlin. Then, young starlets Campbell and James play the Romeo and Juliet duo at the core of this series as Derfel and Nimue while Simon Merrells is evil incarnate as the power-hungry villain, Gundleus. Each perfectly cast in this medieval epic, the handsome ensemble are rounded off by the impassioned and underrated Eddie Marsan as King Uther. 

The Winter King S1 is now on Showmax

Based on George RR Martin’s windswept novels, Game of Thrones created an epic war of politics and intrigue that found warring factions vying for ultimate control of Westeros. Taken from several story perspectives, the grand coming together of these entities made for compelling viewing, a gritty and sometimes shocking tale of corruption, greed and justice. A star-making series that continues to entertain and fascinate audiences with its mainstream following, it set the platform for other similarly weighted medieval series.  

The Winter King S1 is now on Showmax

The Winter King has a multi-faceted narrative similar to Game of Thrones, beginning with Arthur being banished by his father only to hand over the reins to the star-crossed romance between Derfel and Nimue. Rescued as a child, it’s Derfel who rises up from the ashes as a stable boy haunted by past trauma and trying to protect Merlin’s druidess and first love, Nimue (pronounced Nim-way). As their forbidden love intensifies on the back of fiery revenge, King Uther declares his ill-fated successor, whose appointment causes a rift across the kingdom. Just as Britain’s future seems doomed, Arthur returns from exile with a newfound mission and desire to reinstate the rightful king. 

The Winter King’s story trajectory in unfurling the legend of King Arthur has many parallels with Vikings. Grounded in history, Vikings presents a more realistic, gritty and raw dramatisation of events from its age. Punk hairstyles aside, this earthy and violent series tends to land better for viewers who have never heard of Gollum and have a hard time digesting dragon eggs. Offering a ruthless chronicle of the life and times with historical context, this tale journeys with Norse farmer, Ragnar Lodrok, whose battles and triumphs over the English lead him to become a Scandinavian king. 

The Winter King S1 is now on Showmax

Whether enchanted forests or castle ramparts, the series captures a similar intensity, swaying into the realm of magic and wizardry with one foot on the ground. A violent culture, swords and sorcery lead to some epic standoffs as good and evil swirl before heroes and villains emerge from the inferno. Gritty and stylish, the Vikings connection is established through the brutal confrontations, savage pillaging and political drama. 

A gritty depiction of Dark Age Britain, The Winter King is a gripping medieval series fuelled by political intrigue with a fresh adaptation of Arthurian legend. Swathed in dreamy visuals and compelled by solid performances, this vivid reimagining is well-balanced and engaging as skulduggery, might and magic in the key of King Arthur play out against breath-taking fantasy vistas. Fans of medieval films and series will be enticed and entertained by this captivating dark quest through its twists and turns. 

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