Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is an enthralling epic magical adventure that is a delight to watch.
The BBC mini-series Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is an alternate history, magical fantasy series with dark humor and horror elements. It’s a series that has an enthralling and intriguing story, with gruesome elements. But also with lots of witty humor and a mysterious and foreboding atmosphere and of course lots of magic.
It looks fantastic and the refined tale is sophisticated yet it ridicules this sophistication at the same time. It’s a very smart and entertaining story that shows a very original side of fairytales.
The mini-series consists of 7 episodes with each a duration of 60 minutes. It’s a continuous storyline that tells the story of two magicians who succumb to their own flaws.
During the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the 19th century two magicians are part of a prophecy concerning English Magic. It’s been 300 years since John Uskglass, the Raven King left England, and took with him most of the magic. Now there are only theoretical magicians and no practical magicians, except for Mr Norrell who leaves his secluded home in Yorkshire to come to London and make English magic respectable again. He wants to help in the war, but to be taken seriously he has to perform real dark magic to convince Sir Walter Pole that he is the real deal. He rises his wife Lady Pole from the dead, unintentionally with the help of a fairy with severe consequences.
While Lady Pole and her butler Stephen Black are under the control of the gentleman fairy with thistle-down hair, the prophecy is set into motion.
Meanwhile Jonathan Strange heir of a wealthy landlord has to find a respectable occupation in order to marry Arabella. When he encounters a prophet Vinculus who tells him he is a magician, he soon finds that he is able to do real magic and wants to study magic as an apprentice of Mr Norrell.
While the two magicians are the exact opposites of each other, and Jonathan wanting to learn more about fairy magic, which Norrell forbids, they slowly turn against each other, with magic as their weapons and the prophecy seems inevitable.
Why you should watch it
This series tells an enthralling, intriguing and yet very refined but darkly comical story about magic. The characters are sublime, well-crafted and fleshed out rising them above mere stereotypes, while they all fit into a certain type. They are so well depicted that you know instantly with what kind of person we’re dealing. Only the main characters are more than they seem and develop over time for the good or the bad. The story on which the series is based is a pastiche and this is reflected in a very fun way in the series.
The structure is full of mystery, with an adventurous feel. The magic is wonderfully shaped and comes in different varieties. It’s fun, adventurous and it’s dark, but always epic. The tales about the fairies are intriguing and frightening at the same time. The little bits Lady Pole tries to tell about her ordeals in fairyland, she cannot and it seems she is talking gibberish. But in fact she tells fairytales that address her predicament in a metaphorical way. This isn’t only scary and original, but it also gives us a glimpse of the whole universe Susanna Clarke has created in her huge book.
While the series only has 7 episodes to tell the story, it is smartly focused on the relationship between Strange and Norrell and just the right scenes that build around this relationship are shown in the most fantastical ways. It’s fear and arrogance that clash and of which nothing good can come and can even destroy a friendship. Their fate is a tragic one. One who wanted to make magic respectable and help England failed and the other who wanted to impress his beloved failed. Both lost what they really wanted, which is ironic, but due to some other great brave characters, all is not lost.
The story about Arabella, Stephen and Lady Pole who are whisked away to fairyland and stolen by the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is an important element of the story that not only pushes the story forward but is also a part of the prophecy and the solution.
Although the alternate history, the many characters, the specific speech and behavior can be a bit overwhelming, it all fits together in a most brilliant way. In fact the story itself is kept small and focused and doesn’t deviate from the big story arc. In this way every character, everything that happens and is shown matters and is an important element. No filler scenes or too long scenes keep up the story that is fast paced just like the humor that is witty and hits its subtle mark every time.
The cinematography and the art direction, the set designs and costumes it’s all a delight to watch. Fairyland is beautifully designed, yet a bit scary and strange. The ballroom with the creepy ballroom dancers, adds to a dark fairytale vibe. The Peninsula and the zombie soldiers, the The King’s Roads through the mirrors which are crumbling down, the oak moss tree, and the Black Tower are all equally impressive. While the fairy himself gives a brilliant performance. The music adds to the mysterious magical atmosphere. It’s an auditive and visual joy to watch.
My favorite part
I really loved everything about it. The way it is told, the characters, the witty smart humor, the fantastical magic, the set designs, the magic that is shown is wonderful and terrifying at the same time. The different characters really do shape the whole story that feels like a fairytale. The characters are made evenly important as the development of the story itself. It all comes together in a wonderful magical tale that is a must see for everyone who enjoys great tv.
Epic factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is based on the book of the same name written by Susanna Clarke in 2004. It stars Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange), Eddie Marsan (Mr Norrell), Marc Warren (The Gentleman), Charlotte Riley (Arabella), Alice Englert (Lady Pole), Samuel West (Sir Walter Ploe), Enzo Cilenti (Childermass), Paul Kaye (Vinculus), Ariyon Bakare (Stephen Black), Edward Hogg (Segundus), Brian Pettifer (Honeyfoot, John Heffernan (Lascelles) and Vincent Franklin (Drawlight).
Music: Benoît Charest, Benoît Groulx. Cinematography: Stephan Pehrsson, Lukas Strebel. Production companies: Cuba Pictures, Feel Films, BBC America, Screen Yorkshire, Space, Far Moor. Original network: BBC One.