A Discovery of Witches Season One
Entering the Twilight clone
UK Sky One, finished US Sundance Now/Shudder, 17 January Showrunner Kate Brooke Cast Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode, Alex Kingston, Trevor Eve
Author Deborah Harkness says she hadn’t read or seen Twilight when she penned 2011’s A Discovery Of Witches. If that’s the case then this story must be a universal constant that deserves scientific study: it’s possibly some kind of basic human genetic memory that is doomed to be recreated again and again.
This adaptation suffers greatly from being so similar to Stephenie Meyer’s saga – right down to the fact that star Teresa Palmer looks a bit like a blonde Kristen Stewart – and there are also enough hints of Buffy/Angel and even Dracula/ Mina to rob this of any originality. That’s not to say, however, that it isn’t perfectly watchable. Most of it is written and directed with flair and energy (by a commendable tally of women, too), and the cast – notably Matthew Goode as the enigmatic, immortal vampire Matthew Clairmont – are excellent.
Opening in the beautifully shot streets of Oxford, the story follows academic and magically closeted witch Diana Bishop (Palmer) as she innocently takes a book out of the Bodleian Library, only to discover that people have been searching for it for centuries. This attracts the attention of numerous supernatural castes: demons (who aren’t all bad) and witches (who aren’t all good) and, of course, Matthew, a vampire who falls in love with Diana before you can say, “Don’t just smell her, she has a personality too!”
At first, Matthew is a fantastic character: brooding, dangerous, tormented. But once he and Diana start making gooey eyes at each other he goes rapidly downhill, endlessly talking about how powerful she is (because, naturally, she’s some kind of chosen one); how he must protect her; how people aren’t allowed to hurt her; and how much he loves her. Diana, meanwhile, gets kidnapped or attacked a lot, and while she’s not always a damsel in distress, that’s still disappointing for a female lead.
In fact, the more you watch, the more the series lets itself down. Matthew and Diana get together too soon for it to feel anything but forced. The Illuminati-style group chasing them spend too much time talking in dingy Venetian chambers, and lesser characters
Written and directed with flair and energy
get way too much screen time – particularly an obsessed vampire named Juliet who seems to exist for... no reason we can determine.
Is it better than Twilight? It’s rather insulting to claim that this is aimed at a more intellectual audience, but you can’t help feeling that Matthew’s love of wine and history, and author Harkness’s own academic background, have given A Discovery Of Witches a more adult edge. This is a good thing, but seriously: enough with the gooey eyes already. Jayne Nelson
In 1994, Harkness did discover a lost book in the Bodleian: Aldaraia, a 16th century treatise on magic owned by John Dee.
“Wear the same wardrobe combo” day wasn’t a hit.