Ber­tie Carvel

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The BBC’s Jonathan Strange talks magic and mad­ness

What’s Strange and Nor­rell’s re­la­tion­ship like? They are en­tirely di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed. It’s about rea­son ver­sus in­stinct. What’s bril­liant about Nor­rell is he’s a com­plete con­tra­dic­tion. Even though he’s try­ing to or­gan­ise magic, it isn’t in his con­trol. The whole drama hap­pens be­cause the ge­nie gets out of the bot­tle. I think they end up not be­ing so dis­sim­i­lar as one thinks. They get richer as the story goes on, and you un­der­stand more about what they’re do­ing. It’s not easy to say, “Oh, this is their re­la­tion­ship.” How was it go­ing mad? Strange dis­cov­ers that in order to make a mag­i­cal break­through he needs to com­pletely let go. That he has to go mad in order to see clearly. But the thing is, he goes on a trip, lit­er­ally, to try and get mad, and does ev­ery­thing he can to go mad. But he’s sort of go­ing mad any­way be­cause... there’s lots of things go­ing on. Is there a sense of show­man­ship about the way they do magic? Ar­guably, Nor­rell is the show­man be­cause his agenda is to be­come an in­flu­en­tial man of the age to re­store magic’s rep­u­ta­tion. The whole story hap­pens be­cause he shows off some magic. Strange finds that he’s use­less at a lot of things, and then trips over magic and dis­cov­ers this prodi­gious tal­ent. I sup­pose they’re both show­ing off to some­one. But they’re not stage ma­gi­cians. What’s the ap­proach to magic? It’s a story that takes for granted that magic ex­ists, then focuses on the peo­ple who live in that world. That’s why it’s cred­i­ble as a drama, be­cause you’re watch­ing cred­i­ble, com­plete, sharply drawn, fully imag­ined peo­ple who are recog­nis­ably peo­ple in the same world we in­habit. I think given the pop­u­lar­ity of fan­tasy stuff about magic it’s not so far a stretch of the imagination. We’ve all seen Harry Pot­ter and we’ve all seen The Lord Of The Rings. Ian Ber­ri­man

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