UK TV review: The Witcher: Blood Origin
Ivan Radford | On 24, Dec 2022
The Witcher: Blood Origin premieres on Netflix UK on 25th December 2022.
To what degree The Witcher’s success is due to Henry Cavill or due to the wider fantasy universe is something that Netflix and the show’s creative team will be considering a lot in the coming year. The Witcher: Blood Origin, a live-action prequel series, doesn’t offer the most promising answer.
The four-part series is set more than 1,000 years before the series, and well before the 2021’s animated prequel Nightmare of the Wolf, and explores the origins of Witchers – specifically, the Conjunction of the Spheres that led to the creation of the first Witcher. An upside-down opening shot amid a fiery battle is a wonderful eye-catcher, and the visual style doesn’t let up from there, with the kind of production scale, costume design and visual effects that you’d expect from The Witcher universe.
And yet that opening battle is little more than an excuse to dive into some exposition, and – rather bewilderingly – we end up being told about the first Witcher’s story through a forced flashback related to fan-favourite bard Jaskier (Joey Batey) by Seanchai (Minnie Driver). It’s a device that gives the entertaining Joey Batey a deserved chance to reprise his scene-stealing role, but then relegates him to the sidelines while keeping us at one step’s remove from the events we’re meant to be immersed in.
Our flashbacks follow Éile (Sophia Brown) and Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain), who are looking to get vengeance on Princess Merwyn (Mirren Mack). Merwyn, though, is far from the powerful ruler she appears to be, instead serving as a puppet for the calculating sage Balor (Lenny Henry). There’s some intrigue in the politics at hand, and Lenny Henry is clearly having a ball as the ambitious, villainous mastermind behind the cruel regime, but he’s saddled with some painfully forced dialogue that threatens your attention span. Allusions to using order as an excuse for authoritative violence will resonate with viewers but any illusion of depth soon falls flat, with the show’s weakest moments leaving Henry having to conduct one-sided conversations with a CGI tennis ball.
The other half of the show is given over to Éile and Fjall’s revenge quest, for which they assemble a rag-tag group of fighters – including Francesca Mills as the ruthless Meldof and, notably, Michelle Yeoh as sword-crafting veteran Scian. But the script again short-changes the characters with shallow, rushed pacing, relying on a romance that never quite convinces to keep us engaged while simultaneously not giving the phenomenal Yeoh enough screen time.
The result has some cool monsters and impressive conflict, but it never becomes anything more than that. At once unsatisfying and overstaying its welcome, this uneven mini-epic should be a thrilling expansion of The Witcher universe, but instead feels like underwhelming filler.