Carnival Row Comic-Con

Carnival Row has had a long history, languishing in development purgatory before finding a home as an eight-episode fantasy-noir series premiering on Amazon Prime Video next month.

“I wrote this script in film school 17 years ago,” show creator and executive producer Travis Beacham explained at San Diego Comic-Con’s Carnival Row panel on Friday. “I did it as a feature film and I did it without a mind to ever sell it; it was just a sandbox where I could play. Ironically, it was the script that first sold, and it was the script that started my career…as beloved as it was, it languished for awhile until about four or five years ago when Legendary picked it up and suggested doing it as a TV series. The prospect of that was extremely exciting — in writing the world I had imagined so much backstory, and so much stuff around the corners and around the streets. If I had been writing it for the first time now, I would never had even written it as a film.”

Read on for everything we learned at the Carnival Row Comic-Con panel.

Beacham’s comments on the show’s massive complexity and interweaving characters were echoed by the others on stage, including fellow executive producer Marc Guggenheim and actors Orlando Bloom (Rycroft Philostrate), Cara Delevingne (Vignette Stonemoss), Tamzin Merchant (Imogen Spurnrose), and David Gyasi (Agreus Astrayon). Based on the group’s comments and the clips shown to the SDCC audience (including the official release of its first trailer), the show is definitively expansive, taking on the complexities of an entire world while also giving time to the smaller and detailed moments of life on the Row.

Shared Clips Reveal Conflicts Large and Small

The audience got a glimpse of these varying scopes through four clips played during the panel. The first two pieces of footage gave an overview of the larger conflict in this mythical world, and were told from the points of view of the main characters — the human Detective Rycroft Philostrate (Bloom) and fairy Vignette Stonemoss (Delevingne). We find out that the two are star-crossed lovers, brought together and then torn apart by a war between the humans and the fae. Both of them have ended up on Carnival Row, a street in a Victorian London-esque town where the fae are refugees and often treated with animalistic cruelty. The clips also highlight that there’s a serial killer on the loose: a creature, neither human nor fae, that is going around the Row disemboweling people.

The third and fourth clips moved toward the posh part of the town, and focused on the human aristocrat Imogene Spurnrose (Merchant) and her new neighbor, the puck Agreus Astrayon (Gyasi). The tone here is different as well — instead of being immersed in the gritty, wretched life of those on Carinval Row, we are now faced with the conundrum (from Imogene’s perspective) of about having an undesired fae neighbor move in next door. While the first clip showed Imogene and her brother faltering when realizing their new wealthy neighbor is fae, the second clip has Agreus at her door, offering a bargain to help her out with her financial troubles if she offers him a doorway into high society.

Carnival Row is a Fantasy World, But Speaks About Our World As Well

“You may wonder how that sitting room drama story is going to work with the war-torn lands, and it all does work because it’s all one big world,” Guggenheim said after the fourth clip. “Part of that world is a discussion of racism and feminism and classism and spiritualism, and we cover it all; we look at all the different ways you can differentiate people and creatures in a society. And it makes for a very layered and complex show.”

“It’s Dickensian in its scope,” Beacham further explained. “It’s looking at the whole of a society, and how all those cogs intersect, how they interlock with each other, and how one wheel moves the other and how everything affects everything else…it’s about finding the most complex answer, and searching for the most interesting route rather than the simplest or the most easy to understand.”

Carnival Row, an eight-episode Amazon Original, will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on August 30, 2019.

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