***Warning Review Contains Spoilers***
I couldn’t have been more excited when I saw that the BBC was creating a live action series based on the Susanna Clarke novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. In my opinion it is a great work of fiction, the novel is an urban fantasy, set in the 1800’s during the Napoleonic wars between the English and the French, which not only makes this a fantasy piece but a sort of period piece as well. The story follows the lives of the last two true magicians within this alternate 19th century Britain. There is the bookish, annoying and altogether full of himself Mr. Norrell [played by Eddie Marson] and the flighty, brilliant and altogether full of himself Jonathan Strange [played by Bertie Carvel] (personally Strange is by far my favourite of the two, and Carvel has been doing a sterling job of portraying him as I imagined thus far). These two likely fellows are on a somewhat convoluted mission in order to restore English magic back to its former glory, as since the mysterious disappearance of the ‘Raven King’ magic has fallen into disrepute as con men, and charlatans merely use cheap tricks and fancy words to con rich folk out of their money.
Together, and apart these gentlemen both slowly ensure that magic is restored to its former glory, and it becomes an acceptable practice by the members of the public and gentry alike. Over the course of their efforts Foreign policy, home defences, education, art and religion all get a very subtle magical makeover . Although there is a lot of magic going within the original literature and that of the interpretation by the BBC don’t be expecting fireballs and explosions. This is magic Georgian style, it is often very complex and flashy, but the best magic is so subtle you hardly notice it’s there.
“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.”
― Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
The Road to making magical respectable and strong again clearly isn’t going to be an easy one and a lot of mistakes are made along the way. In particular a foolish and naive semi-contract with one of those pesky faerie folk, which are known for their crafty and untrustworthy nature. these mistakes and upcoming events lead to the unravelling of several minds, and of secret paths to other realms, to dark figures gently the tugging threads making those around suffer and do bidding most foul.
This is of course, all leading to the ultimate showdown between good and evil, which isn’t only explosive, but quite gentlemanly and proper.
I place Susanna Clarke squarely in the company of Tolkien and Pratchett; that is, writers with the ability to imagine absolutely astounding fictional worlds, and she did this in a fantastically different way, not only was her prose descriptive, enthralling and downright poetry for the eyes and mind this complete with fictional footnotes from fictional books about fictional people and places but done in such a way that it didn’t seem fictional at all! I thought the use of the footnotes in such a way was not only genius but incredibly awe inspiring.
In regards to the actual TV production, the BBC usually has a tendency to drop the ball a lot of literature that it manages to get its hands on. However I am pleased to say they have done a very good job on this thus far. from the casting and the writing of the episodes, not to mention the spectacular effects, the first true spell cast in the show being to seemingly animate the hundreds of carvings in York Minster (believe me I have been there , there are lots of them) and do this to a very believable standard given it was a pilot episode! A little of the story has been compromised (as is always the case with TV and Flim) they have thus far managed to keep the style, story and epicness on track. This being the case I still implore you to READ THE BOOK FIRST!..
so with nothing more to say, I will leave you with my over all opinion of this story of both literature and film.. naturally in the style of the literature.
“I give my word as a gentleman, with poise, civility, and all the calm polite ‘Englishness’ that I possess and this novel deserves, I tell you …. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell IS *BEEPING* AMAZING!”
Until next time, read more books!….