Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, First Episode Review
note: This piece was rewritten out of self respect. It had been a trying week and I probably was in some altered state when I wrote the first one! It happens in this site folks! 😀
If you missed Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’s glorious debut on television last Sunday night on BBC One, then it’s time for you to catch up because the next six weeks promise to be truly one of fantasy’s finest moments in the small screen. Small screen actually sound inappropriate. The first episode, if anything else broaden the scale and range of what’s possible in television nowadays.
And looking at it, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell may not have worked out if it had been rendered in a 2 ½ hour long epic movie where much magical hocus pocus would bombard the cinema losing much of the quiet little moments that the first episode strongly conveyed.
Not having an international release may be the case today, but give or take a few weeks with the positive feedback from fans of the book, the series will make a lasting impression, not only on the strengths of its format but also on how we perceive fantasy on television.
Amidst the trappings of a period drama- costumes and production design, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is ultimately a tale about power struggle and through the clear vision of writer Peter Harness and producer Nick Hirschkorn and the direction of Toby Haynes, they have set up factions that will play on the next few episodes.
In the friends of English magic, we find Norrell eliminating the York Society Magicians to make the claim of singular magical scholarship in the land. Norrell as played beautifully by Eddie Marsan is insecure despite having the powers at his disposal. In the hands of a lesser actor, Norrell would have devolved into a wuss and aloof to the audience by his eccentricity, but with Marsan’s nuanced performance, Norrell became an identifiable character! Bookworms haven’t had this much sympathy in television!
We haven’t seen much from the other half of the magicianship (as I like to call it). Strange, played wonderfully by Bertie Carvel (Olivier awardee), but you can almost see the conflict that will ensue once the two magicians meet! Strange, having just outlived his father would find another prohibiting character in Norrell and this reviewer couldn’t wait to see the feud, partnership, friendship, or whatever you like to call it!
Carvel balanced Strange’s charm with a pinch of wickedness. Already, we are invested in his new found freedom! That suppressed smirk at his father’s funeral got a cheer from me!
Our supporting cast gave stellar performnces as well. You’ve never seen a well cast show in television!
But what’s really a feat was the fact Toby Haynes, Peter Harness and Nick Hirschkorn managed to weave through almost 200 pages of material and compressing it in a wonderfully paced story about the ways our two magicians found their station in the world. Two deaths, a resurrection and prophecies, just look at how much the first episode conveyed and it still didn’t feel rushed! But perhaps there’s no helping some people who expected the show to have much ripping of bodices or heaving of bosoms and derring-dos. It’s reassuring that television gods still had it in them to produce shows that still trust the taste and intelligence of its viewers. And yes, its nothing like Poldark!
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel gives the spell of resurrection in the sorry state of television (or even films) these days.
I only have one qualm about an otherwise spellbinding opening. I do hope The Gentleman with Thistledown hair gets a new coat. I don’t think the leaf embroidered lapel (or whatever you call the contrivance) was flattering. Perhaps Stephen Black could introduce him to a better tailor! Oh and yes, Ariyon Bakare’s stalwart butler Stephen Black – to watch out for!
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell returns for the second episode on Sunday 9pm on BBC One.
Here’s the trailer for the next episode!