Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
How to make an audience disappear
Release Date: OUT NOW!
2015 | 15 | Blu- ray/ DVD Director: Toby Haynes Cast: Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Marc Warren, Charlotte Riley, Alice Englert, Ariyon Bakare
All Georgian magician Mr Norrell wanted was to make magic respectable to a sceptical England of the early 1800s. All the BBC wanted, it seems, was to make fantasy respectable to prime- time UK audiences again. In the end, both failed. But they were heroic failures.
The series tanked in the ratings. For connoisseurs of fantasy this seems unfathomable. Here we have a respectable adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s celebrated 2004 novel about the rivalry of two magicians, full of whimsy and mystery. It has two perfectly cast leads, some gorgeous special effects, impressive production design, atmospheric direction and endless bizarre wigs. How could it fail?
There are some delightfully quirky lines (“Why are you firing walnuts at me?”). There’s a touch of the Grand Guignol. There’s an epic sweep that takes in the madness of King George and the Battle of Waterloo ( with a wonderfully sarcastic Wellington). There’s just so much to embrace and enjoy.
Yet the series makes one great mistake. It preaches to the converted. Unless you’ve read the book, or are well- versed in the tropes of fantasy, or pay scrupulous attention to every line, it’s often an inscrutable, unfathomable experience. Vital plot points are made in passing. Character dynamics aren’t always explicit. The pivotal rivalry is sidelined for long periods.
This subtle, low- key approach is rewarding for the kind of people who’ll buy this Blu- ray. Fine. But Strange & Norrell was intended to be a big crowd- pleaser, so it’s a shame it isn’t a little more viewer- friendly. It doesn’t need dumbing down, just focusing up. After all, don’t you wish more people loved it?
A Making Of ( 25 minutes), deleted scenes ( 11 minutes), bloopers ( one minute), two brief effects breakdown montages ( two minutes each) and a couple of galleries ( stills and behind- thescenes stuff ).
“Bloody hell: Ant- Man!”