Django, Sky Atlantic, review: there's a new sheriff in town – and he's very, very boring

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Django - Cos Aelenei/Sky
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Django - Cos Aelenei/Sky

Can we just stop remaking things? Django (Sky Atlantic) is “based on” Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Spaghetti Western. You know the original: it started with Franco Nero – he of the ice blue eyes – arriving in town, dragging a coffin behind him. The villains were Confederates and Mexicans, the women were prostitutes with lashings of sexy eyeliner, and rewatching it today will remind you why it is a cult classic.

The new Django also starts with a mysterious figure in a hat hauling a coffin. But guess what? It’s a woman! The writers think this is a mighty clever twist. She’s not Django, though. He’s still a man, and played by Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as if he’s taken a wrong turn from the set of Lord of the Rings. Where Nero smouldered, Schoenaerts just growls a lot and looks in desperate need of some shampoo.

The mud-drenched, one-horse town of the original is now a community called New Babylon, populated by former slaves and founded after the end of the Civil War as a place where every human being can be free and equal. It’s also a place where lots of white people come to watch bare-knuckle fighting, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. Lots of things in Django aren’t quite clear.

They include Noomi Rapace’s accent, which I think is an attempt at sounding Texan by way of Sweden. She plays “The Lady”, who wears pastel dresses by day but by night wears an all-black disguise to visit her local brothel, where she stabs a prostitute in the throat and torches the joint. I think that’s because she’s very religious. Like I say: not quite clear.

Django has turned up to find his daughter, who helped to found New Babylon with a former slave whom she’s about to marry. On her wedding day, she rides off on her horse wearing a white wedding veil with a Django-style black hat on top of it. I think this is an homage to the original film, and it looks ridiculous.

Quentin Tarantino gave us a very different take on the original in Django Unchained, but at least he had a clear and detailed vision of what he was doing and why. This series is underwhelming and over-complicated. Having an international cast (it is an Italian-French co-production) contributes to the lack of coherence. Or maybe the dislocated, dystopian feel is deliberate. I couldn’t tell you.

If you’re looking for a revisionist Western with a strong female role, The English on BBC iPlayer is far superior. And if you’re just looking for a good Spaghetti Western, try watching the 1966 film again. It’s pretty good.