Ellie James unpacks her spellbinding character in ‘The Winter King’

Ellie James as Nimue in The Winter King. Picture: Supplied

Ellie James as Nimue in The Winter King. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 9, 2024


If you enjoyed fantasy offerings à la “Game of Thrones”, “The Witcher”, “His Dark Materials”, “House of Dragon” and “Shadow and Bone”, then “The Winter King” belongs on your binge-watch list.

Adapted from Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling “The Warlord Chronicles” trilogy of novels, it is a bold and compelling retelling of the Arthurian legend.

Set in fifth-century Britain, Arthur Pendragon (Iain De Caestecker), having been banished by his father High King Uther, returns to his homeland of Dumnonia.

His objective is to keep the peace until his infant brother can ascend the throne.

Once back, he is reunited with Nimue (Ellie James), a pagan priestess at Avalon who was saved by Merlin and claims to see the Gods, druid leader Merlin (Nathaniel Martello-White) and Derfel Cardan (Stuart Campbell), a Saxon warrior who is indebted to Arthur for saving his life, and who sees the greatness in him.

A reluctant leader, Arthur’s attempt to forge alliances to maintain the peace between the British tribes and the Saxons is beset with problems.

Amid this, Arthur crosses paths with Guinevere (Jordan Alexandra) and their love affair not only changes the course of their future but that of the country, too.

In the meantime, Nimue, along with Derfel, is plotting vengeance on Gundleus (Simon Merrells), the King of Siluria, albeit for different reasons.

And Nimue also finds herself defending her Pagan religion amid the rise of Christianity.

In a press interview, James said: “Nimue is the best character I’ve ever come across. I think she’s worldly, she’s got a rawness to her vulnerability, but she's got a real strength within that and she’s quite proud, not letting anyone see that she's vulnerable.

Stuart Campbell as Derfel Cadarn with Ellie James as Nimue in The Winter King. Picture: Supplied

“Underneath all the layers, there's a girl trying to become a woman.”

On how her character is first introduced in the series, the 28 year old, who featured in the hit series “I May Destroy You”, explained: “We meet her as a young girl about seven years old.

“She’s been lost at sea and washes up onto the shore where Merlin finds her. Straight away she’s referencing a communion with the Gods.

“Merlin’s taken aback and finds her to have an innate connection with the Gods, which is quite a rare thing to be able to express. The connection between them is instantly formed, he takes her under his wing, and she becomes one of his orphans at Avalon.”

Of her journey throughout the series, James said: “She goes through a lot of quite dire situations. It’s quite a raw telling of some of the worst things women can go through. She has a rough time, and what’s sad is from there it seems to spiral.

“There’s one moment where she gets attacked and it seems from there everything falls apart for her. Anyone she loves and trusts has another reason to not support her because there's a big world with lots of politics and a lot going on.

“On a human level, she gets abandoned by nearly everyone apart from Derfel.”

Nimue’s close relationship with Derfel leaves her in a Catch-22 situation with Merlin forcing her to make a call between love and living the life of a druid priestess.

As for Nimue’s relationship with Merlin, James shared: “So, Merlin is a father figure, a teacher, a mentor, and he’s also a friend. There’s a real bond between them where they support each other and have each other's back.

“When Nimue was with Merlin it felt like you could see the girl in her because she would idolise this man.

“With everyone else, she would hold herself in such a powerful way. I found such a nice vulnerability that came with their relationship.

“It’s complicated; ideally, she would want Derfel, and to be a druidess with all these powers, but Merlin is adamant that’s not possible. That's quite a turning point for her having to come to terms with that.”

On her special ability, she explained: “Magic for Nimue is how she relates to the world. There's magic in everything, she has a really strong connection to nature, and I think signs and symbols, and reading into them is a big part of her.

“If you were going to put it in a modern-day perspective, she's a clairvoyant, she has visions. There are things that you can relate to that aren’t so mystical and so far out, they’re things that could happen nowadays or anytime.

“For her, it’s her life and she sees everything through a lens of magic.

“It is open to interpretation but for Nimue it's very real, it's her life… She has strong visions which are like premonitions and they’ve in the past proven to be true.

“She doesn't doubt that she has these abilities and that's why Merlin doesn't doubt it, because they’re not made up, and everything comes to a head.”

∎ “The Winter King” is streaming on Showmax.“