New Jewel in the Crown for TVNZ+

Will fans of The Last Kingdom, House of the Dragon and Vikings thrill to the free-to-stream premiere of The Winter King on TVNZ+ (September 18)?

The ITVX/MGM+ series has earned mixed reviews since its launch this week but should be essential viewing for for anyone who loves their period fare lusty and bloody.

Adapted from Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles trilogy, The Winter King, directed by Ciaran Donnelly (Game of Thrones, Outlander), is billed as “a daring and reimagined take” on the cherished Arthurian tales:

In the dark days of Post-Roman Britain, a young man named Arthur (Iain De Caestecker) is forced to flee his home after being banished by his father, the High King Uther. With the Saxons invading and a child-king sitting on the throne, Britain is in chaos. But Arthur is not one to give up easily.

He gathers a group of loyal followers, including the warrior Derfel Cadarn (Stuart Campbell), the priestess Nimue (Ellie James), and the magician Merlin (Nathaniel Martello-White), and sets out to unite Britain and defeat the Saxons.

Arthur’s journey is not easy. He must face many challenges, including his own illegitimacy, the machinations of his enemies, and the betrayal of his friends. But with the help of his companions, Arthur ultimately triumphs and becomes the Winter King, the one who will unite Britain and bring peace to the land.

Looper hailed the series “the most compelling take on King Arthur in years” while Paste magazine thought it owed more to Game of Thrones than King Arthur: “Its sumptuous scenery, sprawling vistas, and gorgeous castles are certainly easy enough on the eyes, and its core cast of performers is remarkably solid.”

Gritty, bloody and sometimes campy, with bad wigs galore,” was the New York Post’s verdict. “It’s no masterpiece but, despite its flaws, there’s nonetheless enough in it to captivate fans of shows such as Vikings and its spinoff, and House of the Dragon.”

“Early episodes struggle to strike a balance between the sweeping scale of inter-kingdom wars in the fifth century and the more personal journeys of its lead characters,” The Hollywood Reporter said.

“Once the table-setting is out of the way, though, The Winter King is able to slow down enough to find its own groove. Promising themes begin to take shape around the third episode.”

But Forbes dubbed it a “crushing disappointment … The Winter King, much like HBO’s Game of Thrones is based on the title of the first book of A Song Of Ice and Fire. Beyond that, the TV series is all but unrecognisable as an adaptation of the books.”

And Variety headlined its review, “The Winter King Brings the Legend of King Arthur to Life, but Keeps Its Heroes Two-Dimensional“.

It concluded: “For all its intriguing ideas about the decline of paganism or the birth of a national identity, the series fails to make its protagonists as realistic as its setting. The Winter King wants to make the sixth century feel real, yet its heroes are still the stuff of fable.”

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