There’s a huge demand for fantasy television. But HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s The Witcher skew toward adult audiences with moral ambiguity, graphic sexuality, and horrific violence. Families looking for fantasy stories are left watching The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia for the 100th time. Netflix’s newest series, The Letter for the King, tries to provide a new option with disappointing results.
Opening in the kingdom of Dagonaut, we’re introduced to Tiuri (Amir Wilson), an aspiring knight in training. Unlike his adoptive father Sir Tiuri the Valiant (The Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham), this Tiuri has no combat skills. To move the young squire forward in the trials, Sir Tiuri (valiant, but also pragmatic) bribes his son’s next opponent to take a fall.
The second trial is spending the night in the tomb of fallen Knights of Dagonaut. Tiuri, with the other squires, is to remain not in prayer like historical knights, but simply in quiet contemplation. This slight brush with spirituality is our first indication that this show has nothing meaningful to say on the subject. Later Tiuri encounters a monk who tells him that “Man’s natural state is love,” which might sound nice to some and dangerously untrue to others.
Tiuri’s companions in the vigil are three boys and a girl of similar age, who are less characters and more stereotypes: there’s the shy one, the stupid one, the one who likes to sing, and the girl who can fight. They’re hardly into the vigil when a man outside begins to cry for help. Though it means failing the test, Tiuri risks leaving the tomb. The man leads him to a camp and a dying knight who gives Tiuri a letter to the king.
The rest of the show centers around Tiuri’s journey to deliver the letter as he is pursued by the Red Riders of one political faction and the four squires who are inexplicably sent as representatives of the other. Early in his quest Tiuri is captured by a cash-strapped king and his daughter Lavina (The Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis—are you seeing a theme here?—and real-life daughter Ruby Ashbourne Serkis). But before Tiuri can be handed over to either of his pursuers, Lavina decides she can use him for her own plans and runs away with him. Before it’s all over, they find that their destinies are intertwined.
Sweeping camera movements and bloodless battles can only do so much to hold our attention. For all its effort, this latest offering from Netflix is dull and often doesn’t make sense. A not-so-subtle contemporary attitude runs through the story and will further alienate other viewers. If the characters had any life to them, the other flaws might be forgivable. But while The Letter for the King might aspire to be Stranger Things in a fantasy land or Game of Thrones-Lite, there’s little here to excite the imagination and even less to engage the mind. (Netflix)