Jonathan Strange & Mr Nor­rell

How to make an au­di­ence dis­ap­pear

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Rated / Dvd & blu- ray - Dave Golder

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!”

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