Socialist Worker

Carnival Row—A fantasy drama with good politics, but little subtlety

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2671

Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star

Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star


Carnival Row is a neighbourhood in the fictional, fantastical, steam-punk city of the Burgue. It’s a home to people fleeing the war between the rulers of the Burgue and the Pact—two industrial powers fighting over the riches of a place called fae land.

The Fae or “Pix”, are the new residents of Carnival Row along with other minority groups. They face brutal attacks from racists and the police at every turn. This tension underlines all of the action through the series.

A series of grisly murders in the city can’t be stopped by rounding up the “usual suspects”.

And, as keen as the police are to explain away the problem, they have to be seen to start taking it seriously, particularly after the killer starts attacking humans.

Orlando Bloom’s performance as police inspector Rycroft Philostrate, complete with mockney accent and over-the-top swaggering machismo, is a presumably unintended comic turn.

Cara Delevingne plays her character Vignette Stonemoss with aching sincerity.

Some of the political points are well made.

The police are thoroughly despicable—thuggish and racist to the core.

The terror and destruction of war, and the chaos which comes in its wake, are also well depicted. So are the arrogant assumptions of the imperial powers about the “undeveloped” land of the Fae. But the plot linking the horror and nicely-observed social relations together is lacking.

Carnival Row’s attempts to be relevant result in hammering home political points with all the subtlety and grace of Boris Johnson at a children’s rugby match.

There is a lot you could roll your eyes at with Carnival Row, but there are some redeeming features.


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