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Henry Cavill Will Lead Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’ Series

Superman returns to the small screen for the first time in a decade in Netflix’s bid at a fantasy epic.
By  · Published on September 5th, 2018

Henry Cavill is no stranger to tackling iconic roles on screen. The fact that he’s one of the current live-action iterations of Superman is enough evidence of this. However, these days – after the trials of the Justice League mustache-gate and the continued limbo status of Man of Steel 2 – Cavill has invariably made waves by appearing in other high-profile works.

Franchises, even those not entirely set in stone, still play a big role in his filmography. Just this past summer, he portrayed an unreadable CIA assassin in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, giving Tom Cruise a run for his money. Moreover, I, for one, am not giving up hope for a sequel to Guy Ritchie’s excellent take on The Man From U.N.C.LE.

Now, Cavill has found his next headliner and, once again, he boards a project that already sports a vast and fervent fanbase. The Hollywood Reporter confirms that Cavill will trade blockbuster action hero antics for a return to the small screen in what could be Netflix’s answer to Game of Thrones. He will star as the titular character in the streaming service’s high fantasy show The Witcher. This will mark Cavill’s first major TV role since Showtime’s The Tudors ended in 2010.

Based on Andrzej Sapkowski‘s bestselling literary saga of the same name, the eight-episode series is the brainchild of Lauren Schmidt Hissrich of Daredevil and The Defenders fame. Hissrich serves as showrunner and executive producer on The Witcher. Meanwhile, Emmy Award-winning director Alik Sakharov (Rome, Game of Thrones) is slated to executive produce the show, too, and helm at least four episodes, including the series’ pilot. Alex Garcia Lopez (Luke Cage) and Charlotte Brandstrom (Outlander) have also joined The Witcher team as directors.

Sapkowski’s saga, which initially began in short-story form in the mid-1980s, found renown and cult status in Eastern Europe. “The Witcher” is similarly rich in mythological scope when compared to other popular serial epics like J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It is even further enhanced by the prominent inclusion of Slavic folklore and tradition throughout its narrative.

Across two short story collections, five connected novels, and one standalone book, “The Witcher follows Geralt of Rivia (Cavill), a mutated monster hunter for hire living and working on the Continent. Netflix’s series picks up with Geralt searching for his place in a shifting world as he crosses paths with a formidable sorceress and an elusive princess on the quest of his destiny.

As one of several key characters in the sprawling epic, Geralt experiences a healthy amount of internalized conflict with regard to his identity and purpose. The profession he is unwittingly trained for requires an ability to discern heroes from villains, but the explosive and unpredictable nature of the saga inevitably blurs those lines.

The Witcher is ultimately unique due to its organic interplay of genre indulgence and subversion. Aesthetically, the series has been lauded for its opulent world-building. Bleak but darkly humorous stories are told within an anachronistic yet immersive environment.

Typical fantasy tropes – fate, prophecy, and the dichotomy of good and evil – are upended by the moralistic quandaries presented in the saga. The books feature elves, dwarves, mages, and all manner of magical creatures, yet these archetypes are deconstructed in their imperfections. Characters are well-rounded, wherein we get an equal opportunity to love or hate them depending on the situation. The series feels distinctly modern in its dissection of politics, as well.

Already from the briefest of summaries, we’re made keenly aware that this is the kind of intense high fantasy adventure that begets adaptation. The Netflix show joins an existing multimedia enterprise surrounding Sapkowski’s books. The source material has been turned into a film and TV series (both of which are titled The Hexer) and has found life in comics and games.

In fact, alongside the books’ impeccable reputation, a string of highly successful video game adaptations really jettisoned The Witcher onto the world stage. CD Projekt Red developed several action role-playing games loosely based on the novels that have won numerous accolades. The third installment of the ARPG series was actually awarded Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards and the Game Awards.

Regardless of the games’ popularity, Sapkowski has been a lot more reserved about them. The Witcher ARPGs accurately capture the vibe of the series but still radically change various elements – such as characterization and timeline details – in order to better facilitate gameplay. As a result, Sapkowski has rejected the notion of these games being any sort of follow-up or alternate take on the franchise.

As far as The Witcher Netflix series is concerned, Sapkowski will serve as a creative consultant. He champions an adaptation that will evidently “[stay] true to the source material and the themes that I have spent over 30 years writing.” Furthermore, Hissrich — a blatant fan of the originals — has meticulously documented the show’s production process on her Twitter account. Her dedication to the lore and characters alone should be enough to get anybody pumped.

Where does this leave Cavill? Arguably, in the best hands possible. Granted, his big-screen outings have placed him in more stoic roles of late. As much as I love Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he plays a less cuddly character than Cruise’s affable and capable Ethan Hunt. Elsewhere, glossy, indulgent visual feasts like Immortals do basically nothing for Cavill as an actor, given its untenable narrative and nonexistent character progression.

While Cavill’s broody Superman has been accused of being one-note, I’d argue that Zack Snyder’s inflexible vision of the character’s omnipotence was always the more limiting factor in the DCEU. Cavill can portray Supes with a soul on occasion if we observe his interactions with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane.

And undoubtedly, in the hands of the right director, Cavill is more likely to thrive. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. sees Cavill portraying one of three charming leads with a subtle dry wit that greatly complements the rest of the ensemble. His minor turn as a ridiculous foe in Stardust is equally amusing in his self-seriousness.

Finally, in The Tudors — historically inaccurate and hedonistic as it is — Cavill navigates the role of the Duke of Suffolk with warmth and conviction. Particularly towards the show’s end, his character even tackles a sense of conflicted darkness. The Tudors has certainly given Cavill his most dynamic role to date. The Witcher will likely give him a similar opportunity, and then some, to explore the range that his movie roles persistently lack.

This dynamite combination of a solid, influential source text, a great team behind-the-scenes, and an actor with potential keeps us intrigued over The Witcher. Don’t write off this Netflix series just yet.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)