Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a TV adaptation based on a novel by Susanna Clarke.
Since I don’t read books, I’d never heard of it before, but when the trailer appeared on TV, I saw a lot of spooky goings on involving the wonderful Eddie Marsan, so good in the recent Still Life (as well as everything else I’ve seen him in, since the first time he was on my screen guest-starring as Samantha Janus’ ex-boyfriend Stoat in Game On, one of my all-time favourite sitcoms), and Bertie Carvel, recently seen as Nick Clegg in the engaging Coalition, a look at the creation of the coalition in 2010 between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, and how Clegg could nearly have gone with Labour instead.
Set an in alternate 19th-century England, during the Napoleonic Wars, the series is based around magic once having been around in English and now this pair are bringing it back to the masses, while throwing in a load of Englishness.
Early on, we learn that magic has never hindered anyone in the past, but then again, it’s never helped them, either. In addition, those interested in magic want to go and see it performed by Norrell (Marsan) but while he proposes to give up this profession if it doesn’t work out, he insists that the rest do the same if he DOES make it work, yet only Segundus (Edward Hogg), the man who’s been banging on about it the most, refuses to sign up to it. He still ends up going in, however, and inside, they all see stone gargolyes come to life, which is a great use of CGI as well as also being done to comic effect. The next day, Norrell is less than pleased about the fact the press have portrayed him as a man with a beard and a pointy hat because that’s what they believe a magician to look like. Since it was full of lies, it must’ve been a copy of The Sun. Or the Daily Mail.
In this first episode, The Friends of English Magic, there was the lovely Phoebe Nicholls (who I’ve always had a thing for), looking far better now than she did in the second half of Fortitude; Cucumber‘s Vincent Franklin was camping it up nicely, and Paul Kaye played another magician – Vinculus, who acts like a vagrant but there’s more to him than meets the eye and it was amusing when he was sat with a fortune teller, showing his magician skills, whilst wittering about “The raven is coming“.
In addition, Marc Warren (when will someone make a biopic of Malcolm McDowell and cast Mr Warren in the lead role?) plays a ‘gentleman’ who Norrell somehow managed to conjur up, then he brought a young woman back to life, but for his price, he took half of the remainder of her life for himself.
Safe to say, I didn’t really follow 100% what was going on, but I enjoyed it greatly, and I shall be back for the remaining six episodes.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was once said to be unfilmable, but as Eddie Marsan recently said on BBC Breakfast recently, that would be in the days when there were plans to make it into a two-hour film, whereas these days, TV series are the big thing as you can binge-watch whole series, and thus, you can tell a story over several episodes.
It’s unlikely I’ll be reviewing every episode of this series, but I will still be enjoying it and I look forward to seeing what else is in store.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell continues on Sunday at 9pm on BBC1, and it is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD, ahead of its release on June 29th, and click on the packshot for the full-size image.
Episode 1 Score: 8/10
Director: Toby Haynes
Producer: Nick Hirschkorn
Writer: Peter Harness (based on the novel by Susanna Clarke)
Sound: Benoit Charest and Benoit Groulx
Jonathan Strange: Bertie Carvel
Mr Norrell: Eddie Marsan
The Gentleman: Marc Warren
Arabella: Charlotte Riley
Lady Pole: Alice Englert
Sir Walter Pole: Samuel West
Childermass: Enzo Cilenti
Vinculus: Paul Kaye
Segundus: Edward Hogg
Stephen Black: Ariyon Bakare
Drawlight: Vincent Franklin
Lascelles: John Heffernan
Honeyfoot: Brian Pettifer
Laurence Strange: Vernon Dobtcheff
Henry: Robert Hands
Mrs Wintertowne: Phoebe Nicholls
Mr Bickerton: William Chubb
Foxcastle: Martyn Ellis
Lord Liverpool: Richard Durden
Jeremy Johns: Steve Jackson
Lucas: Robbie O’Neill
Davey: Freddie Hogan
Houlston: Colin Meredith
Lady at Party: Katy Maw
Man at Party: Darren Southworth
Landlady: Christine Dalby
Landlady’s Daughter: Annie Lovett
Beadle: Glen Mortimer
Shepherd: Alastair Barley
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.