Based on the best-selling novels by Deborah Harkness, you absolutely aren’t going to find better genre television than A Discovery of Witches. Vampires and daemons join the title characters in a fully-realized and reality-based world that operates under the nose of humanity. The magic and lore are not simply set dressing to tell a pretty love story, ADOW is steeped in Harkness’ mythos: a world long inhabited by four races of creatures: human, yes (although they appear rarely in the show), witches (full of power and magic and craft), vampires (immortal and strong and formidable) and daemons (creative and exceptional and genius). The three races of creatures rarely intermix, except on the governing body, The Congregation, that oversees and enforces The Accords – creature-binding laws that prevent humans from delving too close by outlawing inter-species relationships and assembly.
Enter Diana Bishop, played exquisitely by Teresa Palmer, an American professor in Oxford who has a hefty witchy pedigree that harkens back to Salem. Having lost her parents at a young age at the hands of other witches, Diana doesn’t use her goddess-given powers, until one day – in the process of her oh-so-regular scholarly work at the Bodleian Library at Oxford – she calls up an enchanted, medieval alchemical manuscript that scores of powerful creatures have been hunting for decades (or centuries if they’re of the blood-drinking sort). Suddenly she’s thrust into the creature limelight – witches, daemons and vampires alike drawn to the power she summoned and desirous of the knowledge that particular book contains.
One such creature is Professor Matthew Clairmont, a vampire. We are blessed to have Matthew Goode portraying the enigmatic and tenacious vampire; he is legitimately revelatory in the role. Matthew is drawn at first to Diana’s ability to call the book, and later to her alone. What follows is a tenuous alliance that leads to a passionate love story. The two are fated and bound to one another. Their love story causes a stir amongst the world of creatures, and wins them not many alliances.
Enter the danger: pursued by witches intent on possessing Diana’s extraordinary powers and by vampires intent on possessing the secrets of the book, Matthew and Diana are rarely safe, and rarely in one place. Villains surround them and so they flee. Settings change from a gorgeous autumn in Oxford, to the quaint countryside of southern France (Matthew’s ancestral home, Sept-Tours), to a jack-o-lantern strewn front lawn in Madison, USofA.
The show itself is lush – gorgeously produced. The cast, including Owen Teale, Alex Kingston, Louise Brealey, Lindsay Duncan and Valarie Pettiford is amazing and well worth watching just to see them portray these bewitching characters. But beyond that, the show explores themes of race and tolerance and survival and love in hopeful and powerful ways. It’s truly not to be missed.
A Discovery of Witches drops on Sundance Now and Shudder TOMORROW, January 17th … ALL EIGHT EPISODES.