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Dynasties: Episode 3 - Charm the Lion (Review)

Dynasties - Lion

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

DISNEY may just have released a teaser trailer for its live-action version of The Lion King next summer but the BBC’s wildlife series Dynasties may just have stolen its crown in terms of drama, excitement and spectacle.

Episode three of this acclaimed series followed the world famous Marsh pride of Kenya’s Masai Mara, first introduced on the BBC’s Big Cat Diary series. But as the episode began, the pride was facing one of its biggest challenges to date: their abandonment by its adult males. Hence, the pride’s survival now rested solely on the shoulders of a lioness called Charm, and her cousin Sienna.

The ensuing 60 minutes were tense, perilous stuff. Sienna, for instance, quickly fell victim to a savage attack while hunting alone at night, which left her at death’s door come the morning. Incredibly, she does make it back to the pride days later, weakened and with a hole in her side.

Yet while one or two members of Charm’s children attempted to step up in the interim (most notably, her daughter Yaya), their actions also flirted with disaster. One of her cousins, Red, strayed into the middle of a 20-strong hyena clan and was taunted to the point of tragedy, only to be saved by Charm’s son in the nick of time.

Worse still, the pride is poisoned by villagers attempting to protect their livestock. And while most lions are affected, one of Charm’s cubs is badly so… leading to the episode’s most heart-breaking moment, as Charm is forced to abandon the cub for dead in order to put the interests of the rest of her pride first.

Sienna, too, fell victim to the same villagers, although her unknown fate went undetected by cameras. Rather, Sir David Attenborough broke it to viewers, as Charm left her stricken cub, that, sadly, “she’ll never see her son, or Sienna, alive again”.

Eventually, there was a happy ending – but even that felt bittersweet. Charm’s pride was ‘adopted’ by two males. But while their presence ensured the survival of the Marsh pride, it still came at a cost as Charm’s daughters (not yet old enough to bear cubs of their own) were chased away by the new males and forced to fend for themselves. Again, their fates were unknown.

Charm did mother two new cubs – a boy and a girl. While Yaya also became a mother. It was a victory of sorts, after months of turmoil. Sir David put it best: “This extraordinary lioness has succeeded.” Extraordinary indeed.

For while this was an episode marked by its tragedies, there was no doubting the formidable achievements of its central protagonist in surviving most of what the Masai Mara had to throw at her.

Charm was a ferociously skilled hunter, a passionate and devoted mother, and a leader as fierce and bold as anything that The Lion King has to offer. Scenes of her bonding with her pride were playful and touching. They were also thrilling.

And therein lies the success of this five-star episode. We were with these lions every step of the way. We shared in their triumphs as much as their tragedies and we marvelled at their resolve and ingenuity.

The camera-work, as ever, was exemplary. The Masai Mara’s sweeping plains were often breathtakingly beautiful, as were the painted skies above it. The lions, too, were truly majestic – kings and queens striking regal poses, or pretenders and children falling prone to pratfalls and learning curves.

We laughed and we cried as these stories unfolded, ever mindful of the threat to these beautiful creatures’ futures posed by ourselves. Hence, while the episode stands as a lasting tribute to these wonderful creatures, it also serves as a sobering reminder of how fragile their continued existence now is. As such, it’s also a rallying call to protect this future so that further generations can marvel at their exploits.

Three richly rewarding episodes in and Dynasties looks to have delivered its masterpiece.