First look review: A Discovery of Witches Season 2
Ivan Radford | On 15, Jan 2021
“Every day of my life is a battle…” “You’re not defined by the worst things you’ve done.” That’s the sound of A Discovery of Witches returning for a second season, and this time, its witch-vampire romance-horror takes us back to Elizabethan times. If that sounds like Sky One’s epic is taking a leaf out of Outlander’s book, you wouldn’t be hugely widely of the mark, in more ways than one.
Based on the novels of the same name by Deborah Harkness, the series follows Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), a science history professor who may also be the most powerful witch of all time prophesed to change the world forever. After a long-lost spell with the key to immortality jumped from a book and on to her in Season 1, she found herself in the middle of a battle between vampires and daemons to get their hands on the information – and the only ally in her corner is Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), a suave geneticist with a noble (and bloodthirsty) family history.
Season 2 picks up as the pair escape from their pursuers into the past – 1590 London, to be exact. There, they must find another powerful witch to take on Diana as a pupil and help her control her magic. That preoccupation with education feeds rather nicely into the show’s overall theme of Diana fighting for her own agency and control of her story – she’s immediately at odds with the patriarchal society of period London, and doesn’t even find an ally in the suspicious Queen Elizabeth. The subplot also allows the show introduce Sheila Hancock as the leader of a coven of witches, who is clearly having a great time – their scenes are perhaps the best of the season.
Matthew Goode, meanwhlie, swaggers about in period garb, immediately blending into a world that he’s lived through already – it’s at once silly and brilliant that he is, of course, friends with playwright Christopher Marlowe. And, to top it off, he spends the entire time trying to avoid anyone realising that he’s actually Matthew from the future, not Matthew from the 1500s.
Naturally, Goode and Palmer’s chemistry is one of the big selling points here, and there’s more than a touch of Outlander in the way the fantasy hinges upon their relationship as a stable and charming constant. There’s also an echo of Outlander’s second season, which took a diversion to period France for half of its run – a change of place and tone that here brings a sombre streak to A Discovery of Witches.
But the show isn’t one to wallow, and it eventually learns to jump between the dour (and very white-populated) 16th-century drama and the present day, where young vamp Marcus (Edward Bluemel) tries to work out what to do and Owen Teale’s Peter Knox continues to bring a wonderfully intimidating snarl to proceedings.
Hopping from Venice to London, and maintaining the show’s production design and impressive effects, the result finds its own voice and tone in today’s modern fantasy landscape, somewhere between trashy genre fun and serious thriller. If you were enchanted by Season 1’s confidently expanding mythology, this stylish second run still casts a compelling spell.
A Discovery of Witches is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.