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 upper-class Englishness.
Early on in the first episode, 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.
There’s also 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 – turning up in everything these days from Inside No.9 to Humans to The Interceptor – 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.
The subsequent six episodes mostly followed along the same lines, often throwing in a big moment per episode, whilst also attempting to further the plot, but one or two episodes did seem to meander a bit without really going anywhere, which made me think things could’ve been tightened up along the way, but overall, while I didn’t really follow 100% what was going on, it was largely entertaining.
Sunday nights have also became a demanding time for the viewers lately with the 9pm slot taking in not only Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but also Anna Friel in Odyssey (aka American Odyssey) on BBC2, Sheridan Smith in ITV’s cop drama Black Work, and Gemma Chan spooking us all out in Channel 4’s Humans, based on the Swedish 2012 series, Real Humans.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was once said to be unfilmable, but as Eddie Marsan 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.
Go to page 2 for a look at the presentation and the extras.
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.