“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”Posted: June 4, 2015
It’s tough writing a review for an adaptation, especially one of a book as rich as Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”. How much plot to include? Should I compare the book and the adaptation or just stick to one medium? Besides, the mini series isn’t even finished yet – only 3 episodes have been aired, and there are 7 altogether. But what I’ve seen so far is so good and I have been excited about this adaptation for so long that I couldn’t wait to rant about it. Please bear with me.
First, a brief summary: the story is set in England during the Napoleonic War, where magic has been lost for 300 years. It tells the rivalry between two magicians who are prophesied to bring magic back, the reclusive Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, a talented novice.
Of course, this doesn’t do the book justice, but then again, the book is so incredibly detailed and its world so large that no summary can do it justice. And that’s where the adaptation comes in. Even though I don’t remember the book exactly (I’m rereading it right now, as I watch the mini series), I think the adaptation perfectly captures the spirit of the story and follows the source material closely while still doing a good job of condensing it and adapting it into the visual form.
Comparison to Harry Potter is inevitable – it is, after all, a world of spells and charms, of talking statues and battleships made out of rain, of fairy folks and foundlings. But it’s not a kid’s show by any means. It touches upon more intimate, more grown-up themes than the simple good vs. evil, and explores them with subtlety (here’s an excellent article about how the show isn’t taken seriously because it doesn’t have the sex and violence expected in “adult fantasy”.) It’s very easy to turn this campy, or go to the opposite end of the spectrum and make it dark and heavy, but I think the show hits the perfect balance between the somberness of a historical drama and the excitement of a fantasy.
And of course, it helps that the casting is pretty much perfect. Every single cast member is just like how I imagined that character – I literally squealed when I learned that Marc Warren was cast as the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair. My only scruple is Bertie Carvel as Jonathan Strange. I’ve only seen him in a small role in Sherlock and thought he was forgettable. In the book, Strange is described as “Some people thought him handsome, but this was by no means a universal opinion”, with a “long nose”, an “ironic expression”, and reddish hair, so naturally I thought my boy JJ Feild would be perfect. But, by the second episode, I was convinced. Bertie Carvel’s chemistry with Eddie Marsan (Norrell) and Charlotte Riley (Arabella Strange) was so amazing that I can’t imagine any other actor in that role.
The cinematography, production design, and costumes are top-notch too. There are scenes that look just like Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings:
Such as this
If this is how the first 3 episodes are, then I have no doubt the last 4 would be just as great. Go watch it! (It’s on BBC One now every Sunday, and will be on BBC America starting from June 13.) And read the book!