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'A Discovery of Witches' Arrives From Britain With Two More Seasons Promised
April 7, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This review is being reposted from January's premiere upon the launch of Season 2 because of its availability to a wider audience.)

Turns out vampires aren’t as instantly adorable to grownup women as they are to teenage girls.

A Discovery of Witches, a British series that becomes available Thursday on the subscription service Sundance Now, stars the certifiably adorable Matthew Goode (top) as Matthew Clairmont – and he does not immediately win the heart of the equally adorable Diana Bishop, played by Teresa Palmer (top).

This despite the fact they have much in common. They are both brilliant academics who meet at Oxford, where he is a professor, and she is an alumna on a visit from her own current gig as a tenured professor at Yale.

Alas, they are on opposite sides of an ancient DNA divide. He is a vampire, albeit a discreet vampire, and she is a witch, albeit a reluctant witch.

She goes so far as trying to deny her inner witch, which gets tricky when her witch powers manifest themselves in public places.

Diana's witch friends, notably Gillian (Louise Brealey), think she should embrace who she is. She insists she has neither the time nor interest because she is so absorbed in her work, which seems to center on researching things like the history of alchemy.

For fun, she’s a workout fanatic. Rowing, running, that kind of thing.

She and Matthew meet after she retrieves an ancient research text from the Oxford library, as part of her current academic project.

When she opens the compilation of dusty old manuscripts, strange witch-like things start happening not only to Diana but to everyone in the library where she’s working. Stigmata, ominous rumbling sounds, stuff like that.

This alerts Matthew to both her presence and her powers which interests him because it seems he and his fellow vampires have been looking for that book for centuries.

Literally. Vampires have won a lot of their victories over the years, it is noted here, simply by outliving everyone else.

So Matthew wants to know why the book appeared when Diana requisitioned it and, more to the point, if she would fetch it again for them.

She’s reluctant, partly because witches and vampires historically have never gone out for drinks. Matthew’s quest here is fueled partly by the vampires’ fear that the witches will study this book first and learn secrets the vampires don’t want them to know.

Like how vampires got started in the first place. And no, it wasn’t the Twilight series.

It won’t surprise many viewers, given the intensity of the early interaction between Diana and Matthew, that they become the focus of the story and their relationship goes through something of a transformation. Transformation being something that both vampires and witches know something about.

In any case, that’s a good thing for everyone, especially viewers, because their relationship becomes the most engaging element in A Discovery of Witches. Goode and Palmer capture the magic in several senses of the term.

Some shows with a supernatural element subordinate that element to a more familiar human story. Others keep supernatural machinations at the center.

A Discovery of Witches, at least in the early stages, tilts a bit more toward the latter. Viewers who love romantic mystery thrillers may learn more than they expected about the advantages, drawbacks, and politics of the witch and vampire games.

Whichever your preference in storytelling, A Discovery of Witches did well enough with its premiere run in Britain last fall that it has already been renewed for second and third seasons.

 
 
 
 
 
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