Seeing a bunch of effete English people in a stately home in Ireland is quite triggering

Patrick Freyne: If this makes me a ‘snowflake’, I might fit right into Fate: The Winx Saga

Fate: The Winx Saga – seeing a bunch of English-accented people living in an Irish stately home is quite triggering for me

Fate: The Winx Saga – seeing a bunch of English-accented people living in an Irish stately home is quite triggering for me

 

This week I feel compelled to analyse the new Netflix series Fate: The Winx Saga, because it was shot in Kilruddery House in Co Wicklow, and seeing a bunch of effete English-accented people living in a stately home in Ireland is quite triggering for me. This probably makes me a “snowflake”. If I existed in the fairy-filled world of Fate: The Winx Saga, however, it would make me a “snow fairy” and I would fit right in.

The series begins with a hapless sheep farmer being savaged by an unseen beast. It’s pretty gory stuff, but not that shocking for anyone who knows Wicklow. Then we cut to the first day of a new term at Alfea College, in “the otherworld”. This is what they call Wicklow in this show.

Alfea College is a magical school for special children in the tradition of Hogwarts or Blackrock College or that new Educate Together school they’ve finally built in your neighbourhood.

Bloom is ginger like Jimmy O’Dea in Darby O’Gill and the Little People but does not wear knickerbockers and does not to try to trick local drunks out of their gold

We meet our heroine, Bloom, a “fire fairy”, who, in a nod to tradition, is ginger like Jimmy O’Dea in Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but who does not wear knickerbockers and does not to try to trick local drunks out of their gold.

Nonetheless it is a big day for Bloom; Bloom’s Day, if you will. For a start she meets a bunch of different fairy folk – there’s a “mind fairy” and a “water fairy” and an “earth fairy” and a “fighting with sticks fairy” and a “quite good at filing fairy” and a “staring ominously into the middle-distance fairy”.

Not one of them does a jig while swigging poitin from a jug like Jimmy O’Dea. This is probably because of political correctness gone mad. Instead they are all English-accented and hail from different realms in the “otherworld”, except for Bloom, who is American-accented, was raised by human parents, and comes from a magical realm called “California”.

All the fairies have iPhones and wear denim and leather clothing. And the boys all have the type of rectangular pouting hunk heads that give grown-ups face blindness. (“Which one is that again?” yells my easily exasperated wife.) This is all a bit surprising. There was a fairy ring on my grandparents’ farm, and everyone ploughed around it for fear of angering the “good people”, but I’m not sure they’d have done that if they thought the good people shopped in Topshop and had Instagram pages.

Bloom is all confused about being a fairy. She wonders why they don’t have wings. A mysterious headmistress tells her that they’ve evolved beyond them, which is code for “it would be far too complicated for the computer-generated imagery team to do in each episode”.

Bloom is attacked by a terrifying being known only as a Burned One. There’s not much to the Burned One. He is what it says on the tin. He’s burned and there’s just one of him

Then the headmistress explains all the different realms in the Otherworld and I jot it all down in case there’s a test.

Bloom is being mentored by a fairy named Stella, who is posh and rude and tells her that her powers are linked to emotion. Later we see Bloom studying, and the camera zooms in on her notes. She has written “powers = emotion” in biro, which means either Bloom is meant to be very slow at taking in information or the programme-makers think the viewer is.

Bloom also flirts with a stick-fighting battle hunk who advises her to stay inside the magical barrier that protects them from Wicklow people. (At this stage they have found the eviscerated corpse of the sheep farmer.)

“What’s outside the barrier?” asks Bloom.

“Depending on rumours, wolves, bears or something much scarier.”

He’s talking, of course, about Bray.

It turns out that Bloom is here because after a fight with her mother she accidentally set fire to her house. (Not that you need powers to do this, in fairness; we all knew someone like this in school.) Here in “the otherworld” she tries to hone her powers but nearly sets fire to a forest and is doused in water by a friendly “water fairy”.

Tony McNamara’s The Great is an antidote to po-faced costume dramas in which things like ‘facts’ and ‘correct cutlery’ are taken far too seriously

At this point Bloom feels homesick for setting fire to her own home, so she crosses the magic barrier (she clearly forgot to write in her notebook “outside barrier = scary stuff”) and uses a magic ring to spy on her Californian kin, who think she’s in a fancy Swiss boarding school and not CBS Bray, I mean Alfea College.

At this point she is attacked by a terrifying being known only as a Burned One. There’s not much to the Burned One. He is what it says on the tin. He’s burned and there’s just one of him. He chases Bloom and growls until the mysterious gnomic headmistress arrives and deals with him offscreen.

Back in her office the headmistress and the fairy folk’s chief fighty man have a conversation about the return of an ancient enemy, and it is revealed that Bloom was, all along, a changeling, switched at birth by meddlesome fairies, like yourself.

In Irish folklore, changelings were often discerned due to their wizened features, beards and long teeth. I accept that having a wizened heroine with a beard and long teeth would have been a hard sell for a teen drama, but I still think they missed a trick.

Fate: The Winx Saga is a well-paced slice of generically entertaining daftness, but it could be so much more if it had a shrivelled fangy bearded protagonist.

The Great: Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning
The Great: Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning

Speaking of enjoyable grotesquery, Tony McNamara’s The Great (Sunday, Channel 4) is an antidote to po-faced costume dramas in which things like “facts” and “correct cutlery” are taken far too seriously. While it deals with big themes like war, slavery, religion, gender, class and human rights, it does so with all the reverence of a Viz cartoon.

McNamara clearly opened the Wikipedia page for Catherine the Great, skimmed the first few lines and thought, Oh God, do I have to read all of this? He set to work instead penning Carry On-style sex scenes, comedically visceral violence and anachronistic turns of phrase, and it’s all the better for it.

Elle Fanning is wonderful as the naively and destructively well-intentioned empress of Russia, and Nicholas Hoult is hilarious and terrifying as her amoral, dissolute and stupid husband.

Like Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin, The Great suggests that history is less a product of great figures with great ideas than it is a product of brutal class relations, absurdist happenstance and base opportunism. I mean, personally I find that quite cheering, but there is a pandemic on.

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