Twi-hards of old should discover A Discovery of Witches

The secret world of witches and vampires collide in British fantasy series A Discovery of Witches. With season two streaming on Neon, Liam Maguren writes about the romance-fantasy show’s appeal and how much it owes to its leads Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode.

A dozen years ago, Twilight fever took over the world. As Marvel started building their game-changing cinematic universe, these film adaptations of Stephenie Meyer’s young adult fantasy dramas captured an audience wanting a different kind of spectacle—one that involved a teenage girl (Kristen Stewart) in a love triangle between a pretty vampire lad (Robert Pattinson) and a desperate werewolf (Taylor Lautner).

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Since then, both Stewart and Pattinson have become respectable actors and that genre’s audience grew from young adults to adult-adults. But while comic book fans have been fed a gluttonous amount of films and shows in a constantly-growing genre, the Twilight saga hasn’t exactly stood the test of time and its imitators never filled the pop-cultural space that series left behind.

Fortunately for the original members of Team Edward and Team Jacob, there’s A Discovery of Witches—a show that fuses the juicy joys of romance fantasy with actual grown-up themes.

The immediate comparisons to Twilight couldn’t be clearer. There’s a young woman. There a dreamy vampire. They’ll share some tense, palpable chemistry. And there’s something that forbids them going full hammer-n-tongs on each other. It’s even based on a series of fantasy books—the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness—but this show wields something the Twilight series sorely lacked: acting.

Teresa Palmer, perhaps best known for leading surprise Australian hit Ride Like a Girl, anchors the show as a respected historian and covert witch Diana Bishop. The modern world is ignorant to the existence of anything supernatural and she’s keen to keep it that way, opting to never use her powers if she can help it. Unfortunately, her scholarly skills prove so good, she accidentally comes across a rarely seen book that might explain the origins of witches, vampires, and all other creatures unknown to humans.

Such a discovery proves invaluable to the likes of Matthew Clairmont, a dapper Dracula with a side-hustle in science who feels the presence of this sacred book in his blood (literally, it’s like a spider-sense). With his slender stature and cordial charms, Matthew Goode was bioengineered to play a vampire. He’s also great at being a creep, as anyone who’s seen Stoker can attest, so he’s pitch-perfect as the seductive-but-suspect Clairmont.

A lot of the world-building falls on the discussions between him and Bishop. Any wobbly performance would render this realm of witches and vampires too ridiculous to bear, but Goode and Palmer never break from their characters’ desire to know more about their collective histories—and it’s hard not to root for characters finding their whakapapa.

Unfortunately, history dictates that witches and vampires are not the best of mates. That sucks in terms of the greater conflict that looms in the background but it sure does make for some tasty romantic tension—and we all know how thirsty vampires are.

At one stage, Clairmont’s growls “I craaaaave her” which looks silly when I quote it but Goode’s intense and tortured delivery makes it easy to buy. In that scene, he’s referring to Bishop’s blood, but anyone on a low-carb diet would talk about a Subway sandwich with equal gravitas.

Blood-sucking’s a natural part of vampire-ism, but A Discovery of Witches adds inventive aspects to these creatures and the contemporary sub-culture they inhabit. There’s a distinct rule about getting a human’s consent before they’re turned into a vampire—even if they’re on the brink of death. More intriguingly, demons exist in this world and the lack of knowledge surrounding their origins has led to a mental health crisis among their people.

It’s also great to see the commanding presence of Owen Teale. Perhaps best known for calling Jon Snow a bastard 429 times in Game of Thrones, his character adds bards to the vines of the witches-vampire conflict, the kind of secret political war that the Fantastic Beasts series tried—and failed—to pull off. Here, it works hand-in-hand with the show’s focus on the importance of history.

Clearly, there’s a lot more going on than the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between their star-crossed lovers. Not that anyone should feel like there has to be more to a story than that. Romance is its own kind of fantasy, after all, therefore it naturally pairs with out-of-this-world elements like witches and vampires. So if you call films like Twilight a ‘guilty pleasure’, don’t—life’s too short to feel shame over simple joys.

Not that A Discovery of Witches is simple. Far from it. This is a show that learns from, and embraces, the past in more ways than one (as evident by season two’s twist). It’s an innocent pleasure for both Twi-hards and Twi-nots.