The long-awaited adaptation of A Discovery of Witches has finally become available to American audiences this past week. And I can tell you that the wait was worth it! The paranormal romance/contemporary fantasy series is fantastic! Not only is this a fabulous adaptation of the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness but it’s an example of how to do an adaptation right. This excellent production is why I believe limited series are the future of book adaptations.
A Discovery of Witches reveals a contemporary fantasy world where witches, vampires, and daemons live secretly amongst humans. Diana Bishop is a reluctant witch (and the last descendant of the powerful line of Bishop witches) who works as a historian with a particular interest in alchemy. While visiting Oxford to do some alchemy research, she requests the book Ashmole 782 only to discover that it’s full of magic. Not only that, the book has been missing for a very long time and includes secrets that every supernatural wants to know! But only Diana can conjure the book.
Soon, vampires, witches, and daemons are after Diana. But there’s one on her side. The mysterious vampire, Matthew Clairmont. They meet at the Bodleian Library and are drawn together. She quickly falls in love with him while he feels an instant need to protect her – despite the fact he desires her blood. Together, they must unlock the mystery surrounding the book as well as Diana’s own past. As they discover that Diana has more untapped power than any other witch for hundreds of years, the threats they face could destroy them. But can they save each other?
A Discovery of Witches TV Review
Part Harry Potter with a rich fantasy world, part every fantastic paranormal romance with vampires (Moonlight, Being Human), and even part British drama with a period drama influence (the writer from Mr. Selfridge), you’ll love this excellent romantic series. It’s refreshingly about adults while also not resorting to vulgarity. So, the perfect series to binge if you’ve been waiting for a fantastic paranormal romance series. It’s been a while since an amazing supernatural romance series has been on the small screen. (The last one arguably The Originals.) And this is up there with the best of them.
The Production Team
What makes A Discovery of Witches work is that each of the production parts is great. The scriptwriters are wonderful. They adapted the book in a way that respects the original book while also showcasing their own voices. The dialogue believable, the characters layered, and the suspense perfect. While some may find the first episode a little slow, keep watching, as each episode picks up in intensity.
Then there’s the direction, the cinematography, the editing, the costumes (down to that gorgeous macrame necklace Diana wears), the musical score, the acting, etc. Everything is excellent.
With Deborah Harkness, the author of the books, on board as a producer, this series has an advantage over other adaptations with no author input. Here, the author’s involvement is obvious and useful. Overall, the adaptation of the popular book, while not being an exact copy (the book long and difficult to adapt), remains true to the essence of the series. And as a fan of the series, I couldn’t have hoped for a better adaptation. From the cast to the writing to the production quality, it succeeds on every level. It’s refreshing to see a cast that’s more about talent than star power as seen in Hollywood blockbusters. Or even a cast inspired by Hollywood socialites sometimes found on the CW. Instead, each person cast was cast because they fit the part – which is what we book lovers crave in a good adaptation!
I also think the length of the series was perfect. A Discovery of Witches is an example of why I believe that limited series with a decent budget is the future of book adaptations. With streaming sites growing in popularity and TV ahead of film in the originality department right now, this seems like the smart choice. With a limited series, you have time to explore an entire book. The British have successfully been adapting classic books for years in this format. Look at Pride and Prejudice (1995), North and South (2004), or even as a continuous series with limited episodes like A Discovery of Witches, look at Poldark.
It’s time everyone takes notice of what they’re doing over in Britain and follow suit.
With a TV Series in the U.S. on broadcast TV, you typically have 21+ episodes. And if you’re adapting a book, the series typically changes the entire story because they have too much time! And then with a movie, there’s often not enough time. Not to mention the often miscast leads. While there are some excellent film and TV adaptations, limited series still seems like the best option for adapting books.
As I mentioned earlier, each person cast fits the part, which helps make the series all the more enjoyable! Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) plays Diana Bishop with passion and embodies the character from the book. Then there’s the always likable Matthew Goode as the vampire Matthew Clairmont. Not only are they perfectly cast individually in the roles but together their chemistry is synergistic.
Besides the leads, the supporting cast includes many familiar faces as well as standouts. But none more than Lindsay Duncan as Ysabeau de Clermont, Matthew’s vampire mother! Her performance as a vampire (including her predatory hunt) is one of the best performances of an actor as a vampire to ever be on the small or large screen. She’s just that amazing.
On top of Duncan, the cast includes Owen Teale, Malin Buska, Alex Kingston, Trystan Gravelle, Trevor Eve, Aisling Loftus, Sophia Myles (Moonlight), and more!
Overall, if you love contemporary fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, or even British dramas, you should love this superb series. From fantastic writing to high production quality, standout performances, excellent direction, gorgeous cinematography, rich mythology, and, of course, a swoon-worthy romance, A Discovery of Witches, has it all! This is a series that fans and critics alike can agree on.
Content Note: While not rated, each episode would either be TV-14 or TV-MA. There are a few steamy though not excessively explicit sex scenes. There is brief strong language scattered throughout the episodes (‘f’ words) though is not continuous throughout, as well as some vampire and witch fantasy violence. Overall, mostly feels TV-14.
Where to Watch: Sundance Now, Shudder, Sundance Now on Amazon Channels and on Blu-Ray (though you’ll need a Region free player).
Did you watch A Discovery of Witches? What are your thoughts on this adaptation of the popular book series?
Featured image at top: Matthew and Diana in A Discovery of Witches. Photo: Sky TV
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