And so it was foretold that the massed armies of potential Game Of Thrones replacements would join battle to decide the fate of the land of Netflix-gard. And up against the rippling might of The Witcher stepped a young adult offering, shorn of the traditional weapons of swearing, bloodshed and nudity, slingshot in hand…
You know the drill. Two unpronounceable realms are at war. A rather opaque prophecy warns of an endless darkness on the way unless something to do with a chosen hero is fulfilled. Meanwhile Tiuri (Amir Wilson), a young squire of the kingdom of Dragonaut, of unknown parentage and haunted by magical visions, is vigorously fingered by fate. Midway through his knight’s training, he’s asked by a dying knight to deliver a letter, stolen from the merciless and slightly magical Prince Viridian and encased in a booby-trapped tube, across a vast and picturesque landscape (New Zealand, typecast yet again) to Viridian’s father, King Unauwen.
The band of killers, Viridian’s red riders, pursue him the whole way, as do a plucky – shall we say – fellowship of Tiuri’s trainee knight peers. En route, he hooks up with charmingly prickly princess thief Lavinia (Ruby Ashford Serkis, in a father/daughter role with real-life dad Andy), who’s on a mission to find her missing mother and reopen a lost trade route to Mistrinaut, although she forgets about all that by episode four. Oh, and Tiuri’s riding the most inexplicably intelligent screen horse since talking ’60s pony Mr Ed.
It’s The Lord Of The Rings by way of The Maze Runner, and if you’ve read this far you’ve pretty much imagined the whole thing already. If formulaic fantasy adventures are your thing, this is a fast-paced and enjoyable yarn, but it’s a decidedly unambitious, box-ticky sort of affair. Far stronger on LGBT+ inclusivity, feminism and pro-immigration subtext than it is on building climactic tension or foreshadowing major plot points, it lacks much in the way of real drama or threat and suffers from weak characterisation. On the odd occasion someone dies your sympathies largely lie with the actor who won’t get a callback for season two.
Talking of which, it’s no spoiler to assume that, at some point in season one, the letter is going to get at least most of the way to the king. This poses questions of where the franchise might go next. A Letter Back From The King? We Tried To Deliver Your Letter To The King But You Were Out? Congratulations Mr King, You’ve Been Entered Into The Dragonaut Postcode Lottery Prize Draw? The show is based on a series of two acclaimed 1960s books by Dutch writer Tonke Dragt, the second of which was called The Secrets Of The Wild Wood. So maybe we’ll see Paul Weller as a fantasy supervillain? Frankly, it couldn’t hurt this pretty shonky show.
‘The Letter For The King’ is streaming now on Netflix