Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 26, 2020
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This will be a short review. Bottom line, I loved it, and recommend it highly. I was skeptical since it was a limited series of just seven episodes, based on a very long book. Even twelve episodes would have strained to cover it, and since Clarke has mentioned the possibility of a book sequel, the story could continue in a film format in the future. The potential is there even without that sequel. Obviously the story was streamlined, and a few minor things were changed because of that, but they did an excellent job telling the main parts of the book. To go into much detail would be to spoil both the series and the book, but I will say what was most noticeable were character motivations, and their reactions to certain events. In the book, those played out over hundreds of pages, and in some cases the reader couldn't be sure the narrator was reliable, or even if some of the characters would return to the action after long absences. What was left out were many of the side stories concerning previous generations of magicians, some of them told in the footnotes, including examples of their spells that read as self-contained fairy tales by themselves. Jonathan Strange's experiences during the wars were also truncated.
Unlike they do for most motion pictures, IMDb doesn't have any information on BBC's budget, but I have to think it was considerable. Granted a lot of the action and backgrounds are CGI, but they employed exquisite detail in the sets, props, wardrobe, and make-up, and the special effects are worthy of a theatrical production, and none of that comes cheap. The acting is universally superb, with some of the minor characters almost stealing every scene they're in, Vincent Franklin as Christopher Drawlight deserving special mention. When I first looked at the cast list I didn't recognize any of the names, but I now know I have seen several of them before, although I have no memory of their appearances in Doctor Who or Sherlock episodes, or movies I've seen. Enzo Cilenti is very impressive as John Childermass, Mr Norrell's servant, his story arc being slightly altered, and while John Hefferman does a good job as Lascelles, he's even more obnoxious than the book character. The ladies' stories are given more of a feminist spin, and both Charlotte Riley as Arabella Strange and Alice Englert as the Lady Pole handled their roles with aplomb. I was visualizing a spin-off with Arabella as the new leader of English magic, would love to see that.
When I had Netflix I had thought this was one of their original productions, but they just had the US streaming rights, but that ended this past summer. I was waiting until I read the book, but didn't get around to that until recently, months after I cancelled Netflix. I think you can stream in at bbc-america.com if you have that channel in your cable or satellite package. If you don't have that, check the links above for video purchase. I borrowed the DVDs from the library, but I'd also love to see it on Blu-Ray, but my budget can't handle that right now. I'm not sure if it's just for Prime members, and it's maybe a limited offer, but you can buy the whole series digitally for just $5, which is only a $1 more than they're charging for each episode on their own. That's an excellent deal, it's almost magical. However you view it, I'm confident you'll like it as much as I did. I refuse to rate either the book or show above the other. They are both equally great.
My review of the Novel by Susanna Clarke.
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