If you thought Daniel Craig’s accent in the Knives Out films was a bit iffy, strap in for Django, the new Sky Atlantic series set in Texas in the late 19th century. Wow there are some fascinating accents flying about the place here. And that’s coming from a writer who publicly defended Craig’s accent. He’s a great actor; he was probably in control of the whole thing. But in Django, you spend a good deal of the show wondering what accents the actors are even attempting, and whether perhaps each of them was told the story was taking place in a different country. It makes for a baffling and distracting experience.
The story – although more on that later – is that a mysterious figure, who looks like a cross between Aragorn and Gandalf, turns up in New Babylon, an area of the South in which people live harmoniously irrespective of skin colour. We discover that he, Django (Matthias Schoenaerts), is the father of Sarah (Lisa Vicari), who founded New Babylon with a former slave called John (Nicholas Pinnock). Sarah thought that her father was dead and wants him to go. But he might come in handy for John, whom Sarah is set to marry, as the town is beset by attacks from a ruthless weirdo called Elizabeth Thurman (Noomi Rapace), who has the strangest accent of them all and an ill-defined motive.
Django doesn’t try hard to distract you from the many, many other things in your life competing for your attention. It just bumbles along, happy to be a mediocre Western, never delivering any particularly interesting dialogue or anything that would have you scrambling to play the next episode. As well as the accents, the script is a problem – “You know, it’s a funny thang: you can’t dig a grave without ending up inside one” – and there are one too many moments in which a character’s ‘death’ involves the actor sliding carefully onto the ground so as not to hurt themselves too badly. A huge feeling of ‘meh’ hangs over the production.
But perhaps God-awful accents and unconvincing deaths would be forgivable if the story held your attention. Fundamentally, this is what we should care about. But no, something’s off here as well. The characters feel both underwritten and borrowed from other places; the motivations of at least one main character are unclear and therefore difficult to invest in and there are a great many shoot-outs in which it’s not entirely clear what’s going on or exactly why we should care.
What Django manages to do, unfortunately, is impress on the audience just how successful productions like Deadwood and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are. It’s hard to get dialogue right. It’s hard to get tone right. It’s a tricky genre, and a lot of people may go into it believing that it can’t be all that difficult. With the trillions of other things out there, vying furiously for your eyeballs, focusing on Django would be a poor decision.
‘Django’ is coming to Sky Atlantic and NOW on March 1