Reviews | Written by Anne-Louise Fortune & Ed Fortune 31/08/2022

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER [EPISODES 1 & 2]

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is Prime Video's biggest production to date, with a record-breaking budget and incredibly tight security. We’ve seen the first two episodes, and for technical reasons, we saw the first episode twice. We do think that makes a difference to absorbing all of the world-building and background narrative information that Amazon Studios needed to include in the first hour of this eye-wateringly expensive production.

Because this is a brilliant show, but be warned, the first episode is both dense and intense; Tolkien’s world is famously detailed and they really are trying to honour this classic work of fantasy while making a TV show that everyone has to watch. Every moment of set-up is worth it though; once it gets going this thing is going to be unstoppably compelling. Just remember to bring the popcorn.

Narratively, much of the first episode is spent introducing us to some of the different characters that will become a part of the ongoing story. The second episode develops the small amount of actual ongoing plot that was introduced in the first - and it's already apparent that something dark is coming to disturb the characters' largely quiet and light-filled existences. If you’re familiar with Middle Earth you might think you know what’s coming, but it's the journey that’s key here. This is a show that wants to keep you second-guessing throughout.

If you've never read Tolkien, you might be approaching The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power thinking that this isn't for you. Fear not. Even if you've never read one of the good professor's books, or the appendices from which this narrative has been woven, you will still be able to follow this incredibly pretty show.

We begin with an extended set of scenes setting out the background story of the Elves, and how they became embroiled in a war they never wanted any part of. It forms the first of a number of philosophical questions that the first two episodes raise - if "nothing is evil in the beginning", then what happens for evil to dominate, and how do people who just want to lead peaceful lives respond to that evil? It's just one of the moments in these opening episodes that remind us that even though Tolkien created Middle-earth and all its realms in the aftermath of the First World War, this story remains all too relevant to a modern audience.

We rapidly pass through several centuries of Elven history, before finding ourselves in the "present" of our story, several millennia before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, in the Second Age of Middle-earth. This episode also introduces us to the Harfoots, one of the wilder types of Hobbit, and the men of the Southlands, who, perhaps to no one's surprise, backed the wrong side in an earlier conflict and now find themselves living under the constant monitoring of the Elves.

The second episode introduces us to the Dwarves, and their realm is visually stunning - we're used to dwarven caves being portrayed as dark and dank, but here they are bright and welcoming, as the reality of a world where the characters have been able to develop as a civilisation is presented. Having not had to expend time, energy, and resources fighting others, the Dwarves, like the Harfoots, have been able to embrace their natural environments, and determine how to exist within their different constraints.

We get plenty of mystery; even hardcore fans of the lore will find themselves second-guessing elements here; which is part of the point. You may know nothing about Middle-earth or be one of its foremost scholars, but you’ll have to keep watching to confirm if your theories about the various story arcs are correct.

There are a lot of characters introduced in these first two hours, however many of them are quite distinctive and this tiered, multi-arc approach to story-telling means you’ll quickly identify favourites and eventually remember their names. Large casts and multi-threaded story arcs are something that fantasy fans are used to, and The Rings of Power is keen to ease the viewer in so you don’t need a notepad to enjoy the show. There’s enough complexity for a certain sort of fan to really sink their teeth into this show, but the approach is deft enough that the show is for everyone.

For the more casual viewer, we feel that focusing on Elven Galadriel (Morfydd Clark: Dracula; His Dark Materials) and Harfoot Eleanor (Markella Kavenagh: True History of the Kelly Gang; Picnic at Hanging Rock) will probably be most important for subsequent episodes. We also want to give a nod of appreciation to Sir Lenny Henry (Tiswas; Doctor Who), here playing Harfoot Sadic, who appears to be the group’s soothsayer and wise-man.

As you'd expect, the scenic shots are phenomenal - New Zealand continues to provide a stunningly picturesque backdrop to the action, though there are plenty of new things added; expect to see parts of Middle-earth you’ve never witnessed before. The use of New Zealand allows those viewers who watched the Peter Jackson-helmed LotR movies or The Hobbit films, to immerse themselves in a familiar world, just at a different time.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is an extravagant affair, made with real love and attention to detail. It’s clear that the showrunners have made a detailed study of Tolkien’s work, not just the books but also his letters, notes and other writing. This is a labour of love that just happens to have an astonishingly high budget and many incredibly talented involved. To say that it is promising really is an understatement.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER begins September 2nd on Prime Video