On the hunt for something magical to watch?
Sam has done some extensive ‘research’ for you, on the hunt for shows, films and documentaries that bring magical worlds to life in different ways.
1. Luna Nera, Netflix
Pop the subtitles on for this Italian series so that you can hear the actors voices and accents, even if you don’t understand Italian. It just makes it sooo much more enjoyable and real. Luna Nera (Black Moon) tells the story of a pair of orphans and their adoption by a mysterious group of women, who protect them from the local witch hunters. There are some brilliant characters, of different ages, and some really cool magic. The source of the power of the witches isn’t clear, but they are in a battle with the church and perceived as working with the devil, even though their magic is possibly more nature based.
There are some witch persecution scenes, and all the witches are women, but it’s more than just a standard witch hunt based story; the characters on both sides are nuanced and intruiging. There’s just one series but it’s really beautiful and engrossing.
2. The Magicians, Amazon Prime
There are several series of this more typical, American teen show. It’s irreverent and silly whilst working with some dark and gory themes. The Magicians is based around the idea of a children’s book world called Fillory, similar to Narnia. Quentin, a depressed young man obsessed with the books, becomes a student at Brakebills - a university for magicians. He discovers his own powers, and how to visit the real Fillory. It’s a bit like a more grown up, less TERFy Harry Potter. Magicians in the show are people of all genders born with magical powers.
The characters Q meets are some of my favourites, including ‘King’ Margot, a bad ass beauty who’s catch phrase is ‘ovary up.’ They do magic in this show with hand gestures in a really cool way, and when I make sigils, I feel like I’m a Brakebills student!
Witchy watches can be very white and cis het centric, but this show does have some racially diverse and queer characters. Warning for sexual violence, and for some Glee style singing.
3. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Netflix
This development of the Teenage Witch show from when I was a kid is soooo much darker! The first couple of series especially has a satanic basis for the magic the witches have access to, but it’s worth sticking with if that’s not your bag, as the magic gets more interesting in the later series. Sabrina lives with her amazing aunties and cousin, and is half human, half witch. Her life is a constant battle between the different parts of herself, balancing her time between high school and satanic rites as she discovers the truth about who she is.
Again, if you’re not that drawn to the main character, it’s worth watching due to the rest of the cast. I especially like the aunties, and it’s great to see Lucy Davis again (Dawn from the original U.K. series of The Office). There are some more diverse folks in this show, including a trans character and a Black seer.
4. The Witch of Kings Cross, Amazon
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know about Rosaleen Norton until I watched this documentary, and felt like a missing puzzle piece in understanding the evolution of the modern witch. She was an artist and witch living in Sydney, Australia in the 1940s and 50s, and her occult lifestyle, sexual liberation and trance-state-inspired artwork were too much for society at the time. The film shares how she was frequently involved in scandals, persecuted and even taken to trial for her way of moving through life and her non conformity.
She turned it around in her later years by proudly claiming the title of witch, and sharing chosen scenes from her life with the media to develop her brand. Her artwork is breathtaking, and there are some interesting pieces around her relationships with Pan and Lilith, and her personal practices and ways of working with magic. She was influenced by Aleister Crowley, and had a polytheistic approach to her Paganism.
5. Brand New Cherry Flavor, Netflix
This Netflix short series was such a treat! With Rosa Salazar as a young film maker coming to Hollywood to make it big, and Catherine Keener as a strange and intriguing powerful creature helping her get revenge when her dreams don’t go to plan.
I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed the way the story evolved, the relationship between the two female leads and the representation of dark nature magic. This really takes the crazy cat lady archetype to a WHOLE new level. Gory in places and with some incredibly weird special effects.
There is a South American, jungle-y Jaguar's heart to the magic in this show, and though it’s not explored massively in depth, it’s refreshing and intriguing.
6.The Pendle Witch Child, BBC (currently available on Amazon)
This simple yet surprisingly elegant BBC documentary shares the story of the famous witch trials in Pendle, Lancashire in the U.K. in the 1600s. Presented by poet Simon Armitage, he explores the landscape around Pendle, joined by little animated drawings of the local characters he’s talking about, imposed next to him like little ghosts.
Down to earth and lyrical, Simon shares his own interpretations as well as the historical evidence, and describes how the involvement of a 9 year old witness in a witch trial informed the later trials in Salem. This is a really gentle and informative way to learn some witch history, and tune into the landscape and stories of this part of the world.
7. Practical Magic
This has dated a bit, but remains a sweet and feel good (white women) witchy watch. Practical Magic is affirming in a number of ways, with no satanism, yay!
I don’t have anything against satanism really, but there are so many other, older magics that have literally nothing to do with the biblical ideas of deities, and I get bored when it’s the only source of magic that gets represented. It’s like the witch trial narrative of witches being in league with the devil just won’t go away.
It’s unclear where the family's magic really comes from in the film, but there’s a more folky, kitchen/cottage witch flavour.
The thing I love is that the other women hate the witch women because, spoiler alert, they just want to be witches too, and there’s a really sweet communal magic scene. Again, as an older witch approaching crone-hood, I‘m intrigued by the aunties and would love them to have their own film.
8. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, BBC
This adaptation of a favourite book of mine is a delight. It’s set in a parallel version of British history, around the time of Napoleon. The actors playing the two main characters are having SO much fun, you can feel it in every scene. The chemistry as their relationship evolves and shifts is brilliantly portrayed, and the magic is really beautiful.
It seems that it’s only men who have magic in this series, a story of two magicians bringing back magic to a disenchanted world. Magic is portrayed as something like an extension of the natural sciences, with some extra mysterious, dark parts that are harder to pin down, more chaotic and unpredictable. The pair end up helping the government using their powers, whilst battling with their own personal crises and a beautifully evil Fae.
9. His Dark Materials, BBC
It's always going to be tricky to do a screen remake of these REMARKABLE books. They are set between our world and a parallel one, where your soul, your Dæmon, walks beside you in animal form. The way that they interpret witches, and the character Serafina Pekkola, combined with the beautiful characters and story telling, is really magical.
The concept of Dæmons is one of my all time, favourite magical ideas, and closely relates to my own magical skills and experience of moving through the world. It's based on the Norse idea of fylgjur - a similar concept where we each have a soul-connected animal that sometimes accompanies us, and that we might even be able to shape-shift into.
The stories also handle adolescence and the transition out of childhood in a very beautiful, moving way. Readers of the books will not be surprised that I have sat on a bench in Oxford Botanic Gardens and wept my eyes out!
10. Lost Girl
Cheesy AF but really enjoyable, Lost Girl is the story of Boo, a succubus living in the normal, mortal world until she discovers the hidden uunderworld of the Fae. Boo learns more and more about truth of where she comes from. A bit like Grimm, episodes introduces a different character from the world of mythology and folk lore - Selkies, werewolves, sirens, witches.. all living amongst humans and hiding in plain sight. There are loads of them, appearing across several series. It’s pleasingly fun and dark, even if the interpretation of some of the mythical characters is a bit all over the place, and not always especially culturally sensitive.
The Worst Witch, Buffy and Charmed were shows that I cut my witchy teeth on growing up, and they are still worth a watch if you fancy some old school viewing. The Worst Witch books are really sweet. Salem is beautifully produced, but, you know, it’s satanic, and I get a bit bored with satanic. I did love the original Witches of Eastwick (which is currently getting a remake), Hocus Pocus and The Craft.
I’m still waiting for the perfect witchy watch.
It hasn’t been made yet.
I want a satanist-free, deep and earthy story, with diverse characters and magic. A story isn’t centred around a teenage/young character finding themselves, but has some older characters doing interesting things rather than simply being the aunties...
How about you? What are your favourite magical worlds to escape into...? What stories would you love to see being told?
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