Amazon Prime Video’s Carnival Row wants to transport you to another world and has already earned a second season in which to do it.
The series, which stars Cara Delevigne and Orlando Bloom, is set in a Victorian fantasy world in which a war between men has displaced mythological creatures known as the Fae from their homes in Tirnanoc and forced them to immigrate to the Burgue in search of safety and a means of surviving.
However, many have been forced into work contracts or other service labor as a way to pay for that safety and, as such, the Fae, derogatorily called “Kritch” or “Pix” by the humans, are looked down upon and treated as less than human.
Many of the immigrants have found their way to Carnival Row, a haven of sorts but rife with human resentment and dark secrets.
Bloom and Delevingne play police detective DeRycroft Philostrate and a refugee faerie named Vignette Stonemoss. Once lovers, the pair are reunited in the Burgue by chance and we start to learn their past is more complicated than we realized even as Philo (Bloom) works to solve a number of gruesome murders in Carnival Row.
Showrunner and Executive Producer Mark Guggenheim, co-creator and Executive Producer Travis Beacham, and stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne discussed the show during the Television Critics Association Summer Tour.
The story, which feels so relevant in today’s world, took its time coming to the screen. Beacham says he wrote the story 16 or 17 years ago and detailed some of the hurdles bringing it to life:
“Because it was so big, and it wasn’t based on anything, and the way that the feature film world was moving, it really didn’t seem like something that could ever get made. I got asked about it in meetings a lot. It was the thing everyone would ask me, ‘What’s going on with Carnival Row?’ It really broke my heart to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what’s going on with it.’ But deep down inside I’m like, ‘That’s never getting made.’ So, to be in Prague and standing on the backlot and to literally be standing on Carnival Row and seeing these people in costumes, I still haven’t quite processed it, I think. But it’s very, very surreal.”
Carnival Row marks Bloom and Delevigne’s first foray into television on this scale but both remarked that the story and the world Beacham had created was what drew them to the project. Delevigne was particularly drawn to Vignette:
“I think one thing about Travis that he really got about Vignette, which I didn’t have to do at all, it was the fire. And it was the fire that drew me to her. It was the fire that ignited my fire for her. But I guess, it was more down to the little things, like the accent and the look and I guess how much…how much compassion and sensitivity and how — because it’s quite hard to play a character that is so strong, but not ruthless. You know you’re trying to play a character that literally has gone through so much and has to go through so much, and yet is still so compassionate and empathetic, it’s trying to find that and kind of make that as real as possible. And I think we all worked on that together well.”
Bloom was also moved by the authenticity of Carnival Row itself:
“I mean, I’ve been on some amazing sets over the years, and you know, Lord of the Rings was always talked about for its authenticity. And nothing has really come close to it since I walked down the Row, really… And Travis can tell you the name of those creatures, but they just look completely otherworldly. And she had these cards, these playing cards. And on the back of these cards were snakeskin. I mean, just to give you a sense of it. I was like…is anyone really gonna see that?”
Carnival Row is also aimed toward a more mature audience. This isn’t fantasy for kids. This is a fully-realized world of life and death, love and sex. It’s not sensationalized, but it doesn’t shy away from gore or nudity.
As Beacham explained, “I think part of what was interesting about it was using these sorts of tropes from fantasy in a kind of more adult context without it being too gimmicky, but in a way that felt organic and lived in and real. Because I think, you know, one of the things that makes it difficult for more cinematic style fantasy to really comment on the world that we live in is when it becomes too whimsical, and it becomes too removed.”
Delevigne went on to add, “But also, the subject matter is so serious and very real. It’s death, and there’s a lot of things going on and violence. So, if you miss the sexy element then where’s the light at all? And it’s not sexy where it’s like it just has to add that in there, it’s very necessary to the storylines. And again, it’s not objectifying at all. It’s beautiful and it’s amazing, and so I think it’s an important element to it… Sex is a good thing. Sex is not bad.”
When asked about the immigrant population of Carnival Row and its parallels to today’s world, everyone on the panel agreed there were definitely connections.
Marc Guggenheim says it’s one of the aspects that drew him to the project:
“Travis wrote this 17 years ago, and those themes were present, but they are so relevant today. And it’s both sad — it’s a sad commentary that the plight of immigrants and migrants and refugees has gotten so much worse in the intervening 17 years. At the same time, one of the things we often say in the writer’s room is that the immigrant story is a very long-time and important thread in the tapestry of human narrative. It’s a very, very old story. So, we’re not doing anything new. But we’re very cognizant of the fact that we are holding a mirror up to what’s going on in our world right now.”
On a lighter note, Bloom was asked about whether or not he’s had any discussions about appearing in the new Lord Of The Rings series. Because you know someone had to ask.
Bloom, for his part, was circumspect:
“It’s so funny, I remember being on set with Peter 20 years ago now, would it be? Twenty years ago. And he was saying, wouldn’t it be funny to think about when they wanna do a remake of Lord of the Rings and we were in the midst of this remarkable shoot we were doing. I was like, ‘It’s never gonna happen, never gonna happen.’ And here I am, working for Amazon and they’re redoing it. It’s great. I mean, look, I don’t know how they’re going to approach it. I haven’t had any conversations about that. I feel like I have done everything that — you know coming back to do The Hobbit was a really wonderful little tip from Peter that he wanted me to come into that, made a lot of sense.
“But, I mean, I like to think of myself as ageless, but I don’t know… But, you know, I don’t know where I would fit in that world. I don’t think – if you’re saying as Legolas, I think they probably got, you know, a 19-year-old kid who’s ready to go and he’ll do a great job.”
Delivigne’s reply was pretty much everyone else in the room:
“No. No! Don’t do that. Bring it back.”
If nothing else, it’s clear Bloom and Delivigne get along really well and, as the characters in the central love story in this new Amazon series, that is a very good thing.
The new series also stars David Gyasi (Interstellar), Karla Crome (Under the Dome), Indira Varma (Game of Thrones), Tamzin Merchant (Salem) and the incomparable Jared Harris (Chernoblyl).
Carnival Row will premiere Friday, August 30 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.