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Carnival atmosphere

As Carnival Row premieres on Amazon Prime Video, stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne discuss the importance of the noir fantasy thriller’s message and unravel their characters’ complexities.

With a hefty budget and established stars like Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne topping the bill, Carnival Row would have fit the criteria for a blockbuster Hollywood hit had it been released five years ago. So the fact that it’s actually the latest original series from Amazon once again highlights streamers’ increasingly tight grip over the content industry.

Nonetheless, the show’s London premiere this week was a relatively discreet affair, hidden away at the Ham Yard Hotel on the edge of London’s Piccadilly Circus, with just a poster of the show propped up beside a stairwell next to the reception letting any passers-by know what was taking place. Diners sitting at the hotel’s adjoining restaurant wouldn’t be to blame if they were unaware the show’s high-profile cast would be enjoying champagne downstairs later in the evening.

For Carnival Row, Amazon Prime has teamed up with Legendary Studios to bring to life a story written 20 years ago by creator Travis Beacham. The show presents the audience with a bleak Victorian fantasy world that resembles a steampunk mash-up of Oliver Twist and Warner Bros’ recent Sherlock Holmes film franchise.

Carnival Row takes its name from the bustling street at the centre of the action

The drama explores a world in which humans and mythical creatures coexist, yet with a palpable level of racism and division that bares striking similarities to issues apparent in contemporary society. Years of war have displaced many Fae (fairies) and Pucks – Minotaur-type hoofed creatures – and sent them seeking refuge in predominantly human-inhabited territories. In turn, this has led to a recurring series of targeted Fae murders and landed Bloom’s character, troubled detective Rycroft Philostrate, with the job of catching the killer. Delevingne portrays his former lover, a fairy called Vignette Stonemoss.

“I think people are scared to have this conversation because people want to be ignorant about how many people are struggling in this world right now,” Delevingne (Suicide Squad) says, highlighting the importance of themes touched on in the series. “I’m actually so glad that [the show] is episodic because I think with something that is this important, especially with the social commentary, the love story and the crime aspect, it’s a lot to digest. After each episode ends, you can have a conversation about it.”

The series is set in the bustling port town of Burgue and revolves around what takes place on one of the city’s busiest streets. Picture the famous Harry Potter side street Diagon Alley, add a Waterloo Station rush-hour crowd, toss in a number of top hats and mythical creatures and blanket it all in a cloud of smog. The result is Carnival Row, part red-light district, part flea market.

Model-turned-actor Cara Delevingne plays a fairy in the Amazon original series

“It smelt just like it looked, there was so much detail,” Bloom says. “That’s the kind of level of detail you want as an actor.”

For her role as Vignette, a refugee fairy-turned-housemaid, Delevingne adopts an Irish accent, which she believes came naturally to the flying character. “I think just making her Irish made it more fun. Well, I don’t know – it just made sense to me,” she says. “The way Irish people speak is so beautiful and lyrical; it seemed to go so well with that type of character.”

Beyond the accent, Delevingne says the script appealed to her because “there was more depth and more emotion than I’ve ever seen out of any character I’ve ever read. I was so in fear of it but also so fascinated by that character and I knew if I hadn’t got it [the part], I would have been thinking about it probably until this day.”

Meanwhile, Bloom (The Lord of the Rings) does away with his natural Received Pronunciation English and dons a husky Danny Dyer-like cockney accent, perhaps in hope of giving his character – known as Philo – the necessary street cred to survive the Row and earn the fear and respect of its locals and frequenters. Like Delevingne, Bloom was drawn to the depth of his character.

Orlando Bloom’s Philo is charged with investigating a series of murders of Fae (fairies)

“I was intrigued by Philo, this man who was born an orphan, raised in an orphanage, then served in the military and went on to be a police detective. I thought about being raised in institutions and what that would do to the psyche of a man,” he explains.

“He has this secret and I think it is something that gives him a super power, which is that he is empathetic and a man who is trying to do the right thing. You know, in this day and age, actually just doing the right thing is heroic enough.”

Carnival Row was shot on location in Prague, which Delevingne describes as “a brilliant place” to recreate the show’s fantasy world. The cast ventured into the Czech mountains as well as a 600-year-old church for additional shooting.

In addition to tackling themes of racism and societal division, Delevingne says the series also offers valuable parallels between the Fae’s struggles and those of women today.

“The part that really spoke to me a lot was when the fairies had their wings strapped down, because that’s kind of how women were treated for so long,” she says. “Because you’re told you can’t move your body in so many ways, it’s a complete restriction. So that commentary on women and being the second-class citizen for so long was also really beautiful and clever.”

Delevingne and Bloom pose at this week’s London screening of Carnival Row

Though reviews series of the series have been lukewarm, Amazon has already commissioned a second season of Carnival Row, with the production returning to Prague to begin filming next month.

Bloom seems excited at the prospect: “I think the world-building is just growing and getting better, and honestly I think the first season is always going to be finding its feet. From what I’ve read for season two, it’s really exciting, and we’ve got an amazing cast of actors.”

Delevingne puts it more plainly: “Something about it sparked a fire inside of me, I suppose.”

The cast and production team behind Carnival Row will be crossing their fingers that the show causes the same instant reaction within viewers as it did with Delevingne, with the bizarre creatures of this noir world promising to take viewers deeper into the Row in season two.

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