I watched Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and had some thoughts about it

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - the BBC series

  • In case you hadn’t noticed - you know, if you regularly choose to SOCIALISE or INTERNET on Sunday evenings instead of collapsing in front of your television - the BBC have been airing their 7 part adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s masterwork, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, over the last month and a bit.
  • It is now finished. The last episode was last weekend.
  • I would have written something about it sooner, but I SOCIALISE sometimes too. Honestly. Like earlier today, I spoke to a real life delivery man and everything.
  • Also I wanted to see all seven parts before making a full and fair assessment. Yes, that sounds better doesn’t it.

Spoiler alert

  • Anyway. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrellthe TV series was FANTASTIC. So so good.
  • The ratings were awful, but what does the Great British public know about anything. Still enjoying your new government, morons?
  • I’m really struggling to remember the last time a filmified version of one of my favourite books didn’t suck beyond all recognition. Harry Potter - abysmal. His Dark Materials - enraging. Lord of the Rings - oh, it was probably that.
  • The series was always going to live or die by how well it brought to life the strained, shifting chemistry between Clark’s two protagonists, so much of the adaptation's success should be credited to its two leads. Eddie Marsan and Bertie Cavel were more like Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange than the versions in my own brain; the hitherto defining interpretation, if I do say so myself. One all manic energy, the other 50% wig, 50% repressed librarian. So much fun to watch.
  • Now why couldn’t you have managed the same, Emma Watson? Why didn't you simply look into my mind and base your Hermione on that? Grr. Still not over it.
  • The supporting cast were pretty great too. Arabella and Lady Pole far transcended their shared basic plot function as faery roadkill, Lascelles was every bit as odious as I remembered, and Vincent Franklin reprised his Cucumber role as Whining Bitchweasel to striking effect.
  • My worst and not entirely unfounded fear ahead of episode 1 was that it would turn out like a mid-series standalone Doctor Who adventure - all wonky CGI and moth-eaten Georgian wardrobe.
  • But I needn’t have worried. The special effects dial was set firmly to ‘subtle; understated’ rather than ‘Titanic-shaped alien vessel hurtles towards Buckingham Palace on Christmas Day; nukes London’.
  • The light touch deployed elsewhere - faeries appearing silently out the corner of your eye; Lady Pole’s eerily spliced pinky - meant the set-piece CGI moments hit home all the harder.
  • The tower of darkness? Galloping sand horses? That really creepy toad-lady log? Steven Moffat, I hope you were taking notes.
  • Not on the flying ears, Steven. Please ignore the flying ears. That is not what you should be taking from this.
  • Speaking of which, the one weak link in the series was Marc Warren’s Gentleman. He had the creep-factor down to a Lost Hope cup of tea, but I missed the childlike, manic energy of Susanna Clarke’s original.
  • Sample quote: ‘“Untold-Blessings is a fine place… it has the advantage of being without a ruler at present - but then it has the disadvantage that there are twenty-six other claimants already and you would be plunged straightaway into the middle of a bloody civil war - which perhaps you would not care for?”’
  • Or: ‘“Would you like to be Archbishop of Canterbury tomorrow, Stephen?”’
  • Or: ‘“a most charming ceremony will be held in the belfry of the Easternmost Tower. It commemorates an occasion which happened - oh! five hundred years ago or so - when I cleverly contrived to capture the little children of my enemy and we pushed out of the belfry to their deaths.”’
  • Or: “Tonight we will re-enact this great triumph! We will dress straw dolls in the children’s blood-stained clothes and fling them down on to the paving stones and then we will sing and dance and rejoice over their destruction!
  • Or: “I perform it whenever I think of it. Of course it was a great deal more striking when we used real children.”
  • None of those seem as funny out of context. Maybe I'm a bit of a faery psychopath myself.
  • In similarly was-it-just-me business, did anyone else find themselves increasingly attracted to Jonathan Strange as the run went on? Insanity suited him well, other than the dead mice of course.

Jonathan Strange - attractiveness v derangement

  • It makes me very sad there’s as yet no sequel, though there do seem to be rumblings of a less aristocratic spin-off on its way.
  • In the meantime I’ll make do with reading Wikipedia articles on the Napoleonic wars, which I have to say are much less interesting without magical boats and French zombies.