Jul 9, 2015

[TV] Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

The problem with being a fairly avid reader is that you never seem to run out of things to read. Worse, your fellow bibliophiles continue to recommend books that they all claim to be must-read books that one must absolutely read right now. And so you end up with a ridiculously long list of books that are all probably good and all worth reading but you never quite have time for.

That's my relationship with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a book that many people have recommended to me and one that Tobie actually owns a paperback copy of. And given that I own way more books that Tobie, it's a somewhat notable event. And yet I still haven't read the darn book! Shame on you, Rocky, SHAME. *bell*

But now it's a TV mini-series. Worse, I've now watched the mini-series without having read the book. Worse still, I really enjoyed the series because it's pretty darn amazing and brilliant and I feel all the worse for not having read the book yet.

I promise, I'm moving it up the reading queue.

Synopsis: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a 7-part mini-series based on the Susanna Clarke novel of the same name. It was adapted for television by Peter Harness and originally aired on BBC One.

In this alternate version of historical England, magic is a very real thing. But as much as magic is widely-known, it is rarely practiced and instead it is only discussed among guilds and within the safety of establishments like gentlemen's clubs. It is the time of the Napoleonic Wars are times are fairly hard as more and more resources and men are shifted to the war effort. And in the rural north we meet Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), who is able to practice a bit of magic and years of gathering magical texts and studying them. His manservant John Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) convinces him that his magic would be used to aid in the war.

It takes a while to get himself noticed, but eventually he manages to perform a formidable feat of magic - restoring the recently diseased to life. What he does not reveal to everyone is that he had to summon an actual creature of faerie to achieve this resurrection. However this faerie known as The Gentleman (Marc Warren) is no ordinary creature of magic. And he has his own agenda now that he once again has access to the world of man. In contrast, we have Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), who is told that he is fated to become a great magician. And thus he sets about to study magic and finds that he's quite the natural.

Now one of my favorite role-playing games is the World of Darkness system Changeling (whether Dreaming or Lost) and the first thing that really drew me in was the figure of The Gentleman. He naturally shares a lot with the game creatures known as the Gentry, given all were patterned after the old stories of faeries. And let's face it, we all love a good villain. And the best villains aren't evil through and through - they just have a different point of view. And you can't get more different than an immortal creature of magic that has no true sense of how humanity works.

But that's just the cherry on top. There's so much about this series to love.

The pairing of Carvel and Marsan as Strange and Norrell at first seemed like a classic odd couple pairing or something. But this wasn't anything shallow like that and over the course of the series, the two manage to craft quite the complex on-screen relationship. And this is despite the fact that for most of the movie, they're always in different scenes. But there is no doubt that this story is about the two of them and how their paths come together.

The rest of the cast included a number of interesting personalities and characters that completed the world. All had their roles to play and all contributed to the greater whole that was such a beautiful end creation.

You don't have to comment really on the quality of the plot. It's a beautiful story that ties together historical events and fantasy in a brilliant combination. But more importantly, I love how the magic starts out rather subtle and yet still undeniable and later on just gets bigger and bigger. Strange definitely had a lot of the flashier magic for the most part, but one can't discount the accumulated knowledge that Norrell had managed to gain through years of reading and research.

Given, there will always be moments when the story gets a wee bit dizzying or you start to lose track of who was doing what and just what the heck was going on. But you'll recover soon enough and then everything comes back into focus. And as long as you're paying attention, you'll reach that point well before the series starts to wrap up and get to the big conclusion.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a beautiful series of the sort of world England might have been with magic. And while I can't comment on how accurate it was as an adaptation, I can stand behind this mini-series and continue to sing its praises. We love the show and thus I'm happy to rate it as 5 deals made with The Gentleman out of a possible 5.


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