Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Last night we finished the BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It was very well done, and I recommend it. I read the book several years ago and remembered little to nothing about it, so the show was completely new to me. Clocking it at only seven packed episodes, it was a treat to watch something whose first priority was telling the story. (It seems strange to praise a seven hour long series as “concise”, but that’s where we are.)

It’s a great story, too. Set in an alternate Industrial Revolution England where magic once was commonplace but hasn’t been around for 300 years, it tells the story of what happens when a magician – a real one, who can actually do magic – suddenly appears. And then what happens when there’s a second one. The first, Gilbert Norrell, is a retiring, orthodox scholar who wants to make magic respectable. The second, Jonathan Strange, is less an academic and more of an impulsive type, and is interested in all areas of magic, especially the ones Norrell thinks are better left forgotten.

It’s not just a story of friends, colleagues, rivals, and enemies, though. There are also political matters, social commentary on race, class, and gender, and philosophical arguments. The characters all have great depth to them, and their motivations and actions are not always simple. Though much of the story involves Strange as protagonist, he is not always in the right. It’s very well handled.

The actors do a great job as well. The two leads are charismatic and dynamic, and most of the other actors keep up with them, especially Ariyon Bakare as Stephen Black, Marc Warren as The Gentleman, and Alice Englert as Lady Pole. Enzo Cilenti’s Childermass is also an excellent portrayal of a character who one is never quite sure of.

It’s available on Amazon Video, and well worth your time and attention.

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