A Bitch About The Witch(er)
Look, I’m not one of those people who is remotely precious about Game of Thrones and its influence on the fantasy genre as a whole; in fact, I should hope that anyone on this blog knows by now just how little esteem I hold that bloody show in. And I saw a lot of people waving their arms around and complaining that The Witcher was just a weak Netflix attempt to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in the schedule now that it’s finally off the air. If people were mad about this show not being Game of Thrones, then surely, that would be something that worked for me, right? Even with Henry Cavill as the lead.
Every time. Every time, I’m sure that Henry Cavill can’t be as bad as I remember him being. Every time I convince myself that his acting can’t really be as wooden, as galling, as gruellingly bad as the last time that I saw it. And every time, I am proved wrong.
It seems that Cavill’s career has reached a sort of terminal velocity by this point: he has been in enough stuff that people liked that people seem to have mistaken his presence in them for the thing which made them likeable. And so, like an unstoppable meteor plunging towards pop-cultural Earth to leave a catastrophic smoking crater in the middle of media that might at least have survived the Cretaceous, Cavill’s career continues to grow, leaving behind a trail of crashing boredom and roles that would have been better off with someone, anyone who could actually act.
And the latest of Cavill’s outings into one-handed show-destruction comes in the form of his leading role as Geralt of Rivera in The Witcher, the adaptation of the video game series (themselves the adaptation of the book series of the same name by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski).
I actually think the show could have been pretty solid if it wasn’t dragging the dead weight of Cavill around as the most boring of boring textbook leading men. There are a few sparky, fun aspects here – lush world design, a welcome and occasional sense of sly camp, a few decent fight scenes (that pull a little too much from The Matrix for my avowed hater liking, but still), enough that I believe the show could have blossomed into a classic swords-and-slash swashbuckling bit of fantasy fun.
But ah! What wood through yonder window breaks? ‘Tis the worst, and the best chemistry he shares with anyone on the show is with his fucking horse. Ever since the first images of this character dropped, I’ve felt that Henry Cavill just looked immensely silly in this role, but some hopeful part of me believed that maybe he could lean into that. So, he can’t act. Maybe he can have some fun, at least, right?
But no, if anything this seems to be the least fun Cavill has ever had on-screen in all the time I’ve been enduring him: squeaking around in a binbag pair of trousers and unable to turn his head without shifting his entire upper body to follow, Geralt seems utterly miserable in the centre of this story, and not even in the interesting way. I thought that Jon Snow was as bad as a dull fantasy leading man could come, but damn, this performance makes Kit Harrington look borderline thespian. His presence is near-impossible to read, what he is trying to convey frame-to-frame genuinely baffling. To call it stilted would be to suggest there was some uneven ground to base it on in the first place, but this really might just as well be a broom with “jawline” pinned to it on a post-it note.
And it’s around him that the story is built, and his insipid unsureness in this performance infects everything around him. You can build a show around a bad performance – it’s possible to fiddle with the tone, the surroundings, to make that performance fit with everything else that you’re doing. But you can’t build a show around no performance at all, and that’s what The Witcher is forced to do in the absence of Cavill giving anything, anything at all, to feed into the tone or the attitude or purely anything about his character in the least. With no central piece to fit the rest of the story around, it’s left feeling utterly empty – another helpless victim of Cavill’s inexplicable celebrity, and the inexplicable insistence of an industry that just won’t accept that he can’t act.
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(header image via The Verge)