The Witcher, Netflix (5 stars)

The Witcher, Netflix

credit: Katalin Vermes

Geralt of Rivia and his Witcher adventures get the TV adaptation they deserve

A small-screen version of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher book series was never going to be an easy endeavour. Having garnered a legion of very passionate fans since its initial publication in the early 90s, two less-than-loved screen adaptations (balanced off by a much revered video game series) are proof that these admirers can be quite particular about how the story of The Witcher is brought to life.

Third time is definitely a charm here though, as Netflix has struck gold with their interpretation of this epic story of destiny, family and lots of monster killing. The Witcher tells the tale of the 'White Wolf', Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill). A Witcher by trade, Geralt is a mutant who hunts monstrous creatures for a living. His story intertwines with that of sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and gifted child Ciri (Freya Allan), as the future of the Continent hangs in the balance.

The difficulty in adapting these novels to the screen comes, in part, from the fact that the first two installments (The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) are comprised completely of independent short stories. Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has done a formidable job of remaining as faithful to the source material as possible (with entire sections of dialogue lifted directly from the page) whilst bringing in some much needed linearity and new content to fill in the gaps that fans have been long speculating about, making this a must-watch for book and game fans alike, and an easy entry point for those in neither fanbase.

The world of the Continent is created as if this was a blockbuster film in the making. The special effects required to bring creatures such as the Kikimora and the Striga to the screen are on-par with any big budget cinematic release, and the mood of a once hopeful world stained by the darkness of the ruthless Nilfgaardian army is present in every detail.

The biggest doubt since the casting announcement has been Henry Cavill's portrayal of the titular character. How wrong does he prove the non-believers. His self-professed love of the novels and games bleeds through every nuance he puts into his performance, from his stern looks to the calculated way that he moves. When you add to it the unique voice and spectacular fighting choreography he so effortlessly executes, his embodiment of such a complicated and layered character is a marvel.

While Cavill (and, occasionally, his mare Roach) steals the show, the remaining cast also bring their characters to life as if they were born to play them. Chalotra's Yennefer gets some much deserved extended screen time whilst smaller appearances such as Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) and Calanthe (Jodhi May) prove without a doubt that fantasy is not just a man's game. Move aside Game of Thrones, Geralt of Rivia is here to stay.

Episodes watched: 5 of 8

The Witcher is available on Netflix, Friday 20 December.

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