'Carnival Row': How the Cast Created a Fantasy World for the Trump Era
Though its title may sound like fun and games, Carnival Row is dark in tone and themes. Set in a Victorian fantasy world, the Amazon series is replete with social and political commentary on race, immigration, and class that helps shape the series’ mythology. It also grasps the depth of its concepts that serve to parallel the real world. Even with its fantastical elements (similar to Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings), Carnival Row hits home in a very real, pronounced way, and the cast found they had to dig a little deeper to connect with their characters in this politically-charged mythological climate.
Caroline Ford, who plays the diabolical and politically conniving Sophie Longerbane, found herself researching and watching “a few videos of politicians talking, including [French politician] Marion Le Pen,” Ford tells Inverse. Despite not agreeing with her ideologies, it was important for Ford to emulate certain behaviors, including Le Pen’s mannerisms when speaking in front of a crowd.
“I watched her, which is pretty fascinating,” Ford says of her political research. “In real life I avoid looking at those kinds of things because they make me quite angry and sad. So it was quite interesting to have to delve into those ideologies and get to a place where, as a character, I’m comfortable saying them.”
Carnival Row, based on series co-creator Travis Beacham’s unproduced film script, A Killing on Carnival Row, takes place in a fantasy world where fairies and fawns co-exist alongside humans. The humans are not so great, however. They spent years invading fairy lands and stealing their wealth, killing the fae or displacing them before eventually forcing them to become refugees with little rights inside The Burgue, a London-like city. At the center of this growing divide is Rycroft (Orlando Bloom), an inspector investigating the murders of fae on Carnival Row, and Vignette (Cara Delevingne), a fairy and former steward of the fae’s library, forced to adjust to life in The Burgue and shares a star-crossed lovers history with Rycroft.
Sophie Longerbane is a character comfortable promoting radical rhetoric, though Ford is convinced that Sophie doesn’t actually “believe a lot of things she says”. Rather, she uses her lineage and resources as leverage for political power. As the daughter of the Chancellor, Sophie sits on the opposition, unwilling to fight for the freedoms of fawn and fae.
Eventually, she convinces Jonah Breakspeare (Arty Foushan) to rethink his neutral stance and pick a side. “Jonah is very apolitical at the beginning,” Foushan tells Inverse, his character very much a party boy who’s too busy spending his father’s money to care much about what’s happening in The Burgue. Instead of looking up political speeches like Ford, he “sought inspiration from the sons and children of incredibly wealthy and influential people who take life for granted.”
Meanwhile, the unexpected love story of Imogen Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant), a generationally wealthy woman, and Mr. Agreus (David Gyasi), a fawn, brought to light the socioeconomic and racial divide within Carnival Row.
Merchant wanted to ensure that “Imogen broke out of the social class she was in. [She’s] only proper when someone else is in the room,” the actress says. Her wealth, among other things, drew a firm line between her and Agreus, who’d moved across the street and was greeted with hateful stares and sneers from his human neighbors.
“I have realized how much music played a part in actually creating the dynamic,” Gyasi says, “We have to discover with these very different corners of the world our characters exist in and what really connects them,” he says. Gyasi believes music helps bridge that divide and listened to Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” and “Family Feud” on repeat. The full album, 4:44, has a narrative regarding “what it is like to be a stranger in a place, to be outside of society and what kind of struggle that is.”
However, Ezra Spurnrose, Imogen’s brother, opposes even the idea of intercreature fraternizing. Ezra’s internal motto, says Andrew Gower, is “make Spurnrose great again, similar to the Brexit motto ‘make Britain great again’”.
Ezra becomes more and more unhinged throughout Season 1, as he doesn’t foresee his sister becoming romantically involved with Agreus, someone he believes to be unworthy of the same liberties and privelege afforded to the Spurnrose family. “Everything the writers served up were for [Ezra] to try and take back control,” Gower explains.
By the end of the first season, however, Caroline Ford hopes that the fantasy world will help audiences “be more open to seeing the sadness” of the fae and fawn’s situations and think about how they might apply to the real world.
Carnival Row Season 1 will premiere August 30, 2019 on Amazon.