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'New Worlds' review: Historical drama that's more talky than epic

If "New Worlds" seems instantly familiar, we can blame it on George R.R. Martin.

The New Mexico-based fantasy author plundered some of the best bits from English history as inspiration for the novels that are the basis of the massive HBO hit "Game of Thrones." So when a miniseries such as this one comes along, which attempts to dramatize part of that actual history, the whole thing takes on a been there, done that flavor.

This four-hour miniseries, which aired in Britain last year and debuts stateside on the online streaming service Acorn TV on Monday, is a follow-up to creators Petter Flannery and Martine Brant's 2008 miniseries "The Devil's Whore," about the English Civil War.

"New Worlds" takes place 20 years after the end of the previous miniseries during the English Restoration. Charles II has been restored to the throne and he's looking to take revenge on the regicides who killed his father, Charles I, whether they're residing in the English countryside or hiding out in the "new world" of Massachusetts.

Angelica Fanshawe, one of the primary characters of "The Devil's Whore," is older now, played here by Eve Best, and has a daughter of her own (Freya Mavor) who's become curious about her father, Edward Sexby, and his anti-monarchist politics. Of course the presence of a handsome yet rugged young renegade in the woods near her home is also a decent incentive for her political awakening. That renegade is played by Jamie Dornan, and the timing of "New Worlds" appearance on our shores is timed to capitalize on Dornan's starring role in "50 Shades of Grey."

But fans of Mr. Grey be warned, the only whips present in this series are in the king's torture chamber. And there's nothing sexy going on in there.

There are also many faces familiar to "Game of Thrones" fans, including James Cosmo, Donald Sumpter, Patrick Malahide and Michael McElhatton. And many similar themes, including religious conflict, a child witnessing the public execution of a parent and a cross-cultural romance between a British woman and a Native American warrior who could easily be a Dothraki horse lord in another world.

But despite a violent Native American attack in the series' opening minutes, "New Worlds" is largely a very talky affair, with the characters lecturing each other at length about the importance of self-governance and freedom from monarchical rule.

And though it's a historical epic and not fantasy, the characters, both real life and fictional, are portrayed more black and white than anyone in "Game of Thrones." The king and his men are hissable, the renegades are noble and true.

Still, the production values are good, with Romania standing in for the wilds of Massachusetts, and the acting is quality. Just don't expect to be compelled to finish the whole thing in one sitting. Sometimes, a little magic goes a long way.

Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday

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