“A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES” AND THE WEIRD WONDERS OF MAGIC
“In every ending, there is a beginning.”
For all her faults, one thing that can always be said of J. K. Rowling is that she is revolutionary. So revolutionary, her work is often held as the benchmark of excellence within the fantasy genre. In fact, we’re seeing the remnants of her legacy with TV shows like A Discovery of Witches.
The British fantasy which is based off of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, is Harry Potter lite. It’s almost as if it’s what the Harry Potter world would be like years in their future if we’d followed the star trio of Rowling’s world into adulthood. Still, A Discovery of Witches is a consuming and enjoyable watch.
Dr. Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), a historian and a disinclined witch, is the central focus of the series and inciter of change when she returns to Oxford as a research fellow to explore the history of alchemy and its intersection with modern science. Her exploration leads her to Ashmole 782, a magical manuscript which is held as The Book of life. The manuscript details knowledge on every species of magical beings who are hidden in plain sights in the streets of Oxford, England. But just as Diana learns of its importance, it slips through her fingers.
There’s a great urgency to finding this book not only because Diana is in need of revitalizing her witch powers but because various magical beings are dying and no one knows why. The Book of Life offers a possible answer to this problem and many others.
Diana’s would-be aide and lover, Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), a vampire and elite within this world, introduces us to all the spectacles of this void.
“Once the world was full of wonders but it belongs to humans now. We creatures have all but disappeared; demons, vampires and witches, hiding in plain sight, fearful of discovery, ill at ease even with each other,” he beautifully explains. “But as my father used to say. In every ending, there is a beginning.”
A Discovery of Witches is smooth. When Matthew and Diana officially meet, their exchange is sensual, melodic, and tempered. And so, the music to underscore their introduction is equally delicate and fanatical as if to say, this is a moment worth remembering.
The series has a great creative team who shepherd the work with heavy consideration, which is seen in all areas of the series from the cinematography to the adoption of special effects. But separate concentration is owed to the notable work of writers like screenwriter Deborah Harkness, along with the precise integration of music by Rob Lane. They make the world of A Discovery of Witches feel real and homey, much like the experience Harry Potter inspired.
Of course, the performances of Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode are compelling and not to be overlooked. Yet, at times the acting in the show leaves a feeling of wanting. This is particularly true in the second season of the show. Once the more gray and serious air in the first season (which is used to set the tone of the show), is followed with the second season, the atmosphere changes to one with a slightly lighter, Twilight-esque love-filled constitution as we dive into the intimacies within Diana and Matthew’s relationship.
Diana is much more amenable to Matthew, save for when she feels she is being instructed. Matthew is equally softened and even more protective of Diana and their love. This is of course necessary to move the story along, but there’s also a bit of awkwardness there when Matthew’s father is introduced to Diana. There are also the more klutzy moments when some of the actors feel more convincing in their roles than others which causes discord—something that felt almost impossible in the first season. Yet the feeling of wonder isn’t gone, instead, it’s immersed with intensity, thrill, and a sense of danger closer to the end of season two as they begin their journey back to modern times.
A Discovery of Witches is accomplished. Diana is a marvel. Her likability has a lot to do with her confidence and staunch defence of her independence. She doesn’t shy away from asserting herself. In fact, when Matthew’s father tells her that she is power. She is unwavering as she tells him “yes I am.”
There’s more to the show than the ordinary elements of fantasy romance. An interesting aspect is the seamless weave-in of real-life social concerns such as discrimination, elitism, even sexism—nearly all the “isms” actually. Demons are in the lower class; vampires did their version of subjugation when they killed witches in mass in the Salem Witch Trials, and the witches are misunderstood. It’s clever and adds a much-needed feeling of familiarity. Maybe that’s for good reason. A Discovery of Witches posits that maybe it’s not just a fantasy after all. What if it was all real?