01st Jul2015

‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ Review

by Paul Metcalf


If shows like Doctor Who prove anything, it is that BBC are good at fantasy.  So it’s somewhat of a surprise that they haven’t tapped into the popularity of Harry Potter or at least done it sooner… but finally things have changed with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

With magic a lost art in England, two men, Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) and his student Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) look to bring it back to the popularity it had in the past.  When Strange’s powers seemingly surpass Norrell’s the two begin to feud about how magic should be used in England, Norrell wanting to be more restrained where Strange wanting it to be free and natural.  With magic growing stronger and more dangerous, the two magicians are pitted in a dangerous battle which may result in the Raven King, reputed to have once been the strongest magician that ever lived.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell may be a slow burner, but at seven episodes once you are hooked it becomes a fascinating show.  Using a historical setting based around the time of the Napoleonic war and the birth of the Industrial Revolution and bringing in the world of magic and fairies it is an interesting merging of history and fantasy.  While we do see some battles, such as the Battle of Waterloo it is magic that becomes far more interesting and repercussions of calling upon the magical realms.

Eddie Marsan’s Mr Norrell is a pitiful little man who wants to be famous, he has a skill in magic and wishes to be praised for his knowledge.  Carvel’s Jonathan Strange is a more natural talent who pushes magic to its limits.  The two actors play their parts well, especially Marsan who is very good at playing the type of character.  He gives Norrell a fragility that brings out the characters flaws perfectly, a man of insecurities hiding behind his fame.  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell reminds us just how good an actor Eddie Marsan is, and it’s nice to see him getting a role like this where he is at his best.  The same can be said for Bertie Carvel as well, who plays the wildness of Strange as the perfect antitheses to everything that Norell is.  The sparks that fly between the two are part of what makes the show feel special.

Another strength is the supporting cast, especially Marc Warren, Paul Kaye, Charlotte Riley, Alice Englert, Aryon Bakare, and Edward Hogg, the list of actors who play their parts well could go on for to include the whole cast.  A selection of some of the best British actors it really makes the show feel like an event.

I would pick out Paul Kaye and Marc Warren as scene stealers though, especially Warren.  His role as The Gentleman becomes pivotal to the story and he seems to really relish the chance of playing such a deliciously evil character.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell really showed something about British television right now, and that is we are lacking fantasy shows of this type that are more aimed at an adult audience.  Yes we have series like Doctor Who and a few others but Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell taps into a certain magic that is just that bit darker, like Labyrinth but with less Muppets.  Escapism of this variety, when done right like in this show, really is something special.

After watching the show I do hope that we get a second series, though even if we don’t, it did end in a certain way that leaves it memorable.  The shows greatest success is to highlight just how well the BBC do shows like this.  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell reminds us that there is a wealth of actors in this country that are at the top of their game, and with shows being created this good? We are left wanting more, a whole lot more.

***** 5/5

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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