Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, A Strong Second Episode in How is Lady Pole?
If I still have doubts that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’s first episode was a fluke, then I think all of it was dispelled in this week’s episode: How is Lady Pole? The Lady in question is not well, but the show on the other hand is getting better and better as the we see things moving at a faster pace for better or worse for English magic. It has the atmosphere, the grandeur, and the fantastic themes of Susanna Clarke’s book and she is to be envied by authors whose work have seen the inside of the tube (or the silver screen) and have not been this successfully realized.
It is safe to say that it got many things right. But consider the many things that could have gone wrong in this production. They could have appealed more to popular tastes. They could have cast more familiar faces or went overboard with the visual effects to compensate for a lackluster characterization. In short it could have been just another period drama with lots of visual effects.
Fortunately for us, all of these things have been deliberately avoided in the hopes that today’s viewers are more perceptive and genre savvy. Indeed many may say that they “don’t get it” which is understandable because the show is in its quiet way defiantly eccentric by today’s blockbuster standards. But no one can say that it is just another tv show. If it was then this review could have been shorter.
But what precisely did it get right?
First of all, I am glad of the casting. I think I’ve mentioned how delightful Carvel and Marsan are in their titular roles. And more so in this episode when the two finally meets. The awkwardness seems genuine and no one does awkward than Marsan and Carvel better.
Childermass continues to be a fan favorite despite his small involvement in this week’s episode but we’ve seen enough of him last episode that his expressed distaste to Norrell’s hangers on are magic enough in itself!
In this episode we see more of Charlotte Riley as Arabella (now married to Strange), independent and smart in contrast to Alice Englert’s Lady Pole who’s victimization is truly affecting. And finally we see Stephen Black played by Ariyon Bakare, Sir Walter Pole’s butler in the same silent suffering as Lady Pole.
If I had misgivings last episode, it was Marc Warren’s Gentleman. But this week’s episode had me change my mind (or maybe because he wore better clothes now!). He may not be as playful as the malevolent fairy in the book but he is equally menacing and fickle! He had now spirited away two main characters in their sleep and is planning another one next week! And all of these happening under the nose of our magicians (well Norrell chooses to ignore this and it terrifies him)! And now Strange is off to the Peninsular War to aid Lord Wellington against Napoleon Buonaparte and Norrell just outbid Strange’s wife in an auction for magical books! If juggling all these weirdness was not difficult then I’m the Duchess of Devonshire!
And the humor in this was also spot on with the humor in the book. While Norrell’s magic may be underwhelming (but effective), Strange’s magic is wild, frightening and erratic. Strange’s sand horses may win the show a BAFTA for Best Special Effects but Norrell’s squeamishness makes this show grounded and human.
And we’re only in the first two episodes and we haven’t seen the truly exciting bits in the book!
Writer Peter Harness, producer Nick Hirschkorn and director Toby Haynes and the rest of the cast and production team (as well as the VFX company) must be congratulated not only for bringing this beloved book to life, but also for bringing back fantasy into respectability once again. And also for saving television from the stagnation of formulaic plots, fan service, violence and rating hoarding executives!
Watch out for my review on next week’s episode: The Education of a Magician! Judging from this teaser, someone’s going to get a fantastic turn down!