Financial Times Review: The Nevers

Victorian sci-fi drama The Nevers on Sky Atlantic has super-powered heroines

A lively corset-buster from Buffy-creator Joss Whedon stars Olivia Williams and James Norton.

Modern storytellers always want to liberate Victoria women; to release them from their social constraints, their historical servitude, and most especially, their outer clothing. Only then will these ladies be free to express their true, butt-kicking nature. It also helps that Victorian men are ready-made villains. According to this lively-corset-buster from Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the patriarchy at its most mutton-chopped become anxious when women suddenly start acquiring superpowers. It can only be a matter of time, the bewhiskered denizens of clubland opine, before “the immigrant and the deviant” also rise in revolt, and the Empire topples.

With a minimum of scampering urchins and women with baskets yelling about ripe strawberries, the richly imagined London streets of this Victorian fantasia do actually look like real places you could explore beyond the camera’s reach, rather than mere stage flats. Interiors, too, are authentically cluttered, with ferns and urns and swags and painting. But the plot’s rather cluttered too, with its two heroines, a serial killer, a philanthropist, a mad scientist, a supernaturally gifted doctor, a grim police inspector, lots of people just hanging around and some of the finest Gor-blimey-guy overacting you’ve scene.

The role of chief eye-candy goes to a male, the decadent (it’s the 1890s after all) Lord Hugo Swan. Played by a swaggering James Norton, he’s an Apollo, with just a hint of Pan in profile. Swan runs a louche soirée called the Ferryman’s (and for those who think the emblem of the Styx boatman sits ill with a “pagan sex club”, it’s a nice touch that it sounds like pheromones). Swan’s washout pal Augustus (Tom Riley) has a stern sister, Lavinia (Olivia Williams) who runs a refuge for the growing numbers of mostly nubile young women afflicted with the strange powers known as “turns” – a cleverly weighted euphemism. Funny turn, or stage act?

Their leaders are Amalia (Laura Donnelly), who can glimpse the future, though she can’t predict just when her dress falls off, and Penance (Ann Skelly), who’s not just a “great inventress” (of the motor car among other things) but also Irish. More tutting at the club. The “turns” are various; levitation or moving objects with mind-control is one thing, but pity poor Myrtle (Viola Prettejohn) – all she can do is prattle in an annoying mixture of languages, while Primrose (Anna Devlin) is 12-feet-tall, like Alice after a “Drink Me” bottle.

What else? Pip Torrens is a snooty lord, Nick Frost is a criminal mastermind, Ben Chaplin a beetle-brewed copper, and Amy Manson is way over the top as the crazed, smudged-make-up killer Maladie. If ladies fighting in their nighties is your thing, then fill your button boots.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Om Sky Atlantic/NOW now in the UK; HBO in the US

Original article at The Financial Times.

This article has been reproduced for archive purposes.

Author: Cider

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