REVIEW: Starz’s The Luminaries is a frustrating adaptation of an award-winning novel

Despite the immersive design elements and Eve Hewson’s impressive lead performance, The Luminaries series is too confusing to be entertaining.

The luminaires is an adaptation of the acclaimed Man Booker Award-winning novel of the same name by Eleanor Catton. Catton also wrote the television series, however the show bears only a passing resemblance to the book. Given that the book spans over 800 pages, extreme cuts were likely made to fit the story into all six episodes of the series, but outside of a few cursory comments, the show has also missed much of what it did. that the book was intriguing. What’s left is a confusing story that, despite Eve Hewson’s impressive lead performance, is ultimately far more frustrating than entertaining.

The series, which initially aired in Britain and New Zealand last year and will now be available in the United States on Starz, begins in 1866 in the dead of night. A woman trudges through the forest, a man is shot, two men on horseback enter the place at a gallop; but all this is so badly lit that it is difficult to understand what is happening. Then the story goes back a few months earlier in 1865. Anna Wetherell (Hewson) meets Emery Staines (Himesh Patel) on a ship bound for New Zealand, where they both plan to participate in the growing gold rush. There’s a spark between them and they plan to meet that night, but before Anna can meet Emery, she runs into Lydia Wells (Eva Green), the owner of a business dealing in mysticism and magic, who makes sure Anna doesn’t it will. their meeting.

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This proves to be the beginning of Anna’s downfall as she becomes embroiled in a series of events leading to prostitution, drug addiction, and a murder charge. The series jumps between the time before and after this murder, while continually casting doubt on who is really dead, and if it’s just one person. Also, although the promise of a love story between Emery and Anna is teased from the very first episode, after their initial meeting, they don’t see each other again until several episodes later and Emery is absent for a good chunk of the story until then. . . Meanwhile, there is a lot of scheming and manipulation on the part of Lydia and her lover, Francis Carver (Marton Csokas), often to the detriment of Lydia’s husband, Crosbie Wells (Ewen Leslie), who is often too complicated for reasons that can only be understood. justify in some of them. time.

That is also a fitting description of the series. While a lot is happening, not all of them matter, although this takes quite a while to realize because of the tangled way the story is presented. Multiple timelines are a hallmark of many series today, but here the signifiers of both stories are so similar that it can sometimes take an entire scene to figure out where you are in the story. Also, the plot can seem surprisingly slow, providing more detail than necessary or reiterating information that has already been articulated at many points while rushing to pass key details in others, making it difficult to determine what is really important.

Also, most of the characters are too obnoxious or too poorly defined for you to worry about them. Patel does a good job as Emery, but he doesn’t have enough screen time to realize the character’s potential. In many ways, Green appears to be riffing his character from Penny dreadful, which makes you lose that top series. It’s Hewson, actually, who manages to keep the show together. She has a magnetic presence on screen and is wonderful as Anna, playing on her naivety, anguish, determination and resignation as needed, although the material rarely lives up to her performance.

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The book draws heavily on astrology, with characters representing the signs of the zodiac and heavenly bodies, such as the sun and the moon (the titular luminaries), but in the series this primarily serves as a showcase. While 12 characters eventually come together and are identified as representatives of various zodiac signs, this is not especially significant given the limited information we have on most of them. Similarly, early in the series it is noted that Emery and Anna may be astral twins because they share a birthday, but this soon becomes the completely unsatisfactory excuse for most of the supernatural elements of the story, which seem to appear because the Narrative requires them, not because they follow a predetermined set of rules.

The most rewarding of The luminaires is its immersive production and costume design, along with the beautiful natural scenery of New Zealand. This part of the production is usually much more interesting than the story itself, which is never really convincingly combined. So while the show’s murder mystery is peppered with mystical verbiage and complicated presentation, these things amount to very little, ultimately resulting in an infuriating and uneven viewing experience.

The Luminaries, starring Eve Hewson, Himesh Patel, Eva Green, Marton Csokas and Ewen Leslie, premieres Sunday, February 14 at 9:30 pm ET / PT on Starz.

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