Tag Archives: book adaptations

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “All the Mirrors of the World”

“All the Mirrors of the World” marks the halfway point of the miniseries, and, fittingly, it’s an episode that is heavily concerned with balance. More accurately, it’s an episode that deals largely with the ways in which things are out of balance and are not right with our characters.

The episode begins right where last week’s ended: with the chaos following Lady Pole’s attempt on Mr. Norrell’s life. We quickly learn that Lady Pole succeeded only in wounding Childermass and earning herself a trip to an asylum.

Childermass has a vision while he's inconveniently unconscious from his wounds.
Childermass has an ominous (and foreshadowing) vision while he’s inconveniently unconscious from his wounds.

The standout part of this whole sort of opening sequence is the interaction between Childermass and Norrell. It’s probably the longest we’ve gotten to see these two characters alone together so far in the show, and I think it’s been worth the wait. This scene finally manages to really establish the sort of relationship that exists between Mr. Norrell and his servant. Mostly, it’s a weird relationship, characterized by Childermass’s self-assurance and Norrell’s awkward reliance on Childermass. Indeed, while Childermass is incapacitated, Norrell is seemingly barely able to function. At the same time, though, Norrell is suspicious of Childermass’s use of magic, and Childermass has begun to mistrust Norrell as well.

Meanwhile, the Stranges seem to be in somewhat better accord now that Jonathan Strange has returned from the Peninsula. As Jonathan prepares to return to his apprenticeship with Mr. Norrell, he and Arabella are extremely cute together.

King George III.
King George III.

The first thing that Norrell and Strange do now that they’re back together is visit King George III, who is in the midst of his final bout of madness. They’ve been called to see the king by his children, who hope that they might be able to use magic in some way to help him. Norrell, of course, has already said that magic cannot cure madness, but Strange is more hopeful and even returns on his own after Norrell has already moved along from the matter. While Strange is unsuccessful in penetrating the king’s madness, he does get to see the king disappear into a mirror after having an odd conversation with someone Jonathan can’t see.

Lascelles and Norrell.
Lascelles and Norrell.

When Jonathan goes to Mr. Norrell to talk about what happened, Norrell is dismissive. Norrell is much more interested in promoting his own ideas, primarily through Lascelles’ book, which is nearly ready for publication. Strange is basically shut down entirely, and it’s becoming clear to everyone that Norrell intends to be the only magician in England whose opinions matter. Frustrated with Norrell, Strange takes his leave, returning to his home, where Arabella reminds him of the first spell he ever did–which warned him that Norrell was his enemy.

Segundus and Honeyfoot defend Lady Pole.
Segundus and Honeyfoot defend Lady Pole.

Lady Pole has been taken to Starecross, which Segundus and Honeyfoot have turned into an asylum since Childermass told them they couldn’t have a magicians’ school. Lady Pole will be their first patient, but she’s terribly unhappy about it. When she recognizes them as magicians, she’s convinced that they are Norrell’s men, only calming down when she observes them refusing Childermass entry to see her. It seems that Starecross may be a comfortable place for Lady Pole after all, and Segundus is even able to see the enchantment that has been placed upon her and Stephen Black, although he doesn’t know what it is.

Earlier in the episode, Arabella questioned her husband about a Miss Grey, who claimed to be learning magic from him, and Jonathan disclaimed any knowledge of the girl. While Jonathan is at a club with a couple of friends, however, he comes face to face with a pair of men who also claim to be his pupils. Clearly, someone is running a scam. When called upon to demonstrate his magic and prove his identity, Strange steps into a mirror, where he finds himself on the [Raven] King’s Roads.

The land behind the mirrors.
The land behind the mirrors.

Jonathan Strange uses the roads to travel to where Drawlight is; unsurprisingly, Drawlight is in the middle of duping yet another person out of exorbitant amounts of money, and Strange speedily puts a stop to the scheme. When Strange finally returns to his own house, Arabella has been worried, and she turns furious when Jonathan is dismissive of her concerns. I am pleased that the show follows the book in presenting Jonathan Strange’s inconsiderate behavior toward his wife as a fault, and they do a wonderful job here of showing this conflict between the Stranges in a way that is fair to both characters. Bertie Carvel is affable enough as Jonathan Strange that he’s lovable in spite of his sometimes glaring faults, and Charlotte Riley as Arabella captures such a perfect mix of loving concern and absolutely justified anger that there’s no reasonable way anyone could think her shrewish or nagging. Indeed, I think the viewer is supposed to be almost entirely on her side in this argument, and her feelings are treated entirely seriously.

Norrell insists that magic must be made respectable.
Norrell insists that magic must be made respectable.

Drawlight finds himself permanently exiled from Norrell’s presence and in a great deal of debt that is about to get him tossed into prison. However, this might be considered lucky, as Norrell is pushing to have some ancient magical court revived in order that Drawlight could actually be hanged–with the added benefit that such a court could be used to squash any opinions on magic that differ from Norrell’s. Fortunately, Sir Walter is there to, quite sensibly, put a stop to that idea, and he gets one of my favorite speeches so far in the show. This is also, I think, a really clever way of including material from the book without really including it. In the novel, there’s a whole thing where Norrell pesters Parliament for a while about reviving the Cinque Dragownes, and it would have been terribly boring to put that in the miniseries even though it’s a pretty important bit of Norrell’s characterization. This conversation, though, allows us to get that characterization in one short scene, communicating the concept from the book in a smart way. Also, it’s very funny.

Angry about Drawlight and upset that he won’t have his own personal court of law, Norrell turns to picking on Jonathan Strange, next, berating him for his injudicious use of magic. Strange argues, trying to get Norrell excited about the King’s Roads, but Norrell only insists that modern magic must be kept “respectable.” As Strange leaves in frustration again, he grabs a copy of Lascelles’ finished book, which he sets out to review when he gets home.

I am a little bummed that we don’t get the whole text of Strange’s scathing review, but I suppose that gives people a good reason to read the book after watching the miniseries. I did like seeing Lascelles rant about the review to Norrell, though.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell having very civil breakup tea together.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell having very civil breakup tea together.

Probably the most important thing that happens in this episode is the inevitable breakup between Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Following the publication of the infamous book review, Strange goes to visit his mentor and inform him of the end of their association. This scene is shot so perfectly and acted so sensitively that it actually made me a little teary. Norrell practically begs Strange not to leave him, and it broke my heart a little.

Lady Pole gets to be at least a tiny bit okay for about a minute.
Lady Pole gets to be at least a tiny bit okay for about a minute.

I would have been happy if the episode had ended here, but there are still a couple of things to be wrapped up. In the last few minutes, we get to see Lady Pole finally settled at Starecross, which is nice, although I think I would rather have seen this finished earlier in the episode. Mostly, I feel this way because Lady Pole’s fleeting contentment is immediately overshadowed by a sort of triple cliffhanger ending.

First, Jonathan Strange is called back to war when Napoleon escapes and starts causing trouble on the continent again. This throws a wrench in the Stranges’ plans to return to their country home, where Jonathan intended to retire and become a theoretical magician.

The moss oak is pretty freaky.
The moss oak is pretty freaky.

Second, Stephen Black and the Gentleman unearth a “moss oak” from a sort of bog. The Gentleman said that he needed the moss oak for his plan to take Arabella away from Jonathan Strange, and it turns out that the moss oak is a piece of enchanted wood, or perhaps a piece of wood that can be enchanted. In any case, and much to Stephen Black’s horror, the Gentleman peels back part of the wood, revealing Arabella’s face.

Norrell becomes Jonathan Strange's enemy for real.
Norrell becomes Jonathan Strange’s enemy for real.

Finally, the episode ends with Lascelles confronting Norrell about the breakup with Jonathan Strange. Apparently, they had a whole plan of how Norrell was going to browbeat Strange into retracting his book review and stuff, but Norrell didn’t do any of that stuff. However, Norrell is receptive as Lascelles encourages him to work against Jonathan Strange, and by the last ominous shot of the episode, Norrell is vowing to destroy his erstwhile pupil.

“All the Mirrors of the World” is the best episode of the show so far. It’s thematically consistent with its examination of how different pairs of characters balance each other, and it does a masterful job of breaking up the central pair of Strange and Norrell, who don’t know yet just how much they need each other.

As an adaptation, this episode probably hews closer to the source material than any episode yet. Though notable cuts have been made and we miss out on some of the book’s insights into the interior lives of the characters, this episode covers an enormous amount of story in a way that feels naturalistic and almost effortless. The shifts between story lines are smartly done and keep things interesting the whole time without being disorienting or confusing.

Overall, this was just a superb piece of television, and it’s exactly the sort of thing I hoped to see when I first heard this miniseries was in the works. I’m not sure how the whole series will stand up to the source material, but this episode at least definitely does it justice.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “The Education of a Magician”

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-11h33m17s49I always watch an episode at least twice before writing about it, and I’m very glad I did in this case. “The Education of a Magician” is definitely a piece of work that improves upon better acquaintance. On first viewing, I was disappointed at some of the liberties taken from the source material, but the second time around I was impressed with how well the adaptation is bringing to life the spirit of the novel, if not every single detail that I want to see on screen.

This episode contains, essentially, three stories: Jonathan Strange’s experiences in the Peninsular War, Mr. Norrell and how he deals with his pupil’s absence, and the advancement of Arabella Strange and Lady Pole’s friendship. We also start to see the increasing entwinement of the fates of Stephen, Arabella, and Lady Pole as well as the beginning of a huge gulf forming between Strange and Norrell as both of them cross some lines that they probably ought not (even though, at the end of this episode they seem as close as ever).

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Lady Pole at work.

Interestingly, “The Education of a Magician” doesn’t open with Jonathan Strange, even though that might seem like the most exciting place to begin. Instead, the episode starts with Lady Pole waking up and having a new idea for how to tell Arabella about her predicament. She gets out of bed quickly and starts ripping up her dress to make a tapestry. Lady Pole’s tapestry is a somewhat interesting departure from the book, as it continues the show’s trend of expanding Lady Pole’s role and granting her somewhat more agency than she had in the novel. It’s nice to see, because I think Lady Pole is a tricky character who could easily have been flattened into a handful of unpleasant tropes or made into a simple damsel in distress. Instead, this adaptation actually improves upon the source material, giving us a Lady Pole who is clever and resourceful and never gives up trying to take back control of her life.

As Lady Pole is working out new ways of communicating, Childermass is, at Norrell’s instruction, intercepting letters to prevent Arabella from telling her husband anything that Norrell might disapprove of. Also sandwiched in here is a pretty much straight-from-the-book conversation between Arabella and Drawlight that I was happy to see included.

In Portugal, Jonathan Strange gets off to a rocky start with his military career, and Lord Wellington is downright dismissive of him. It seems to the two magicians have so far done more harm than good for the war effort, and Strange can’t provide what Wellington wants–men and arms–and is therefore useless. Strange is left quite at loose ends, with no magic to do and struggling to find a way to make himself useful in the war effort.

Honeyfoot and Segundus at Starecross.
Honeyfoot and Segundus at Starecross.

Meanwhile, back in England, Childermass is also busy making sure that no one in England besides Norrell does anything resembling magic. He rides out to Starecross, which Segundus and Honeyfoot are turning into a school for magicians and advises them to stop this plan before Norrell finds out. In exchange for their going into another sort of business, Childermass offers to send clients their way when he gets the chance.

In London, Arabella continues her visits with Lady Pole, who is continuing to work on a tapestry illustrating Lost Hope. She shows the tapestry to Arabella, who doesn’t understand at all, which I found a little frustrating to watch, if I’m honest. For one thing, it’s not entirely clear quite how Lady Pole is not only able to make this tapestry but also to talk rather at length about it to Arabella. And in light of how much Lady Pole is able to say in this manner about her and Stephen’s enchantment, I’m honestly just not sure how Arabella manages to not see what her friend is getting at. I’m also not sure why Arabella doesn’t recognize the Gentleman in the tapestry, since he’s been creeping on her for a good while now.

For all that I’m not entirely happy with the way this is playing out, this visit with Lady Pole has one of my favorite speeches in the show so far. Arabella tries to cheer up her friend by basically advising Lady Pole to count her blessings, among them Sir Walter’s love, Lady Pole will have none of it and even turns it around on Arabella, asking what good Mr. Strange’s love ever did her.

Jonathan Strange creates a road.
Jonathan Strange creates a road.

On the continent, Jonathan Strange finally figures out a way to contribute when a soldier complains to him about the poor roads destroying boots. Strange presents a plan to Lord Wellington whereby he will use magic to make roads the troops can march down more easily. This is quickly done and earns Strange Wellington’s gratitude and, against his protestations that it’s not respectable, the nickname “Merlin.”

For a nice bit of foreshadowing, Strange’s dinner with Wellington and the officers includes Jonathan Strange’s rather famous line from the book. When Wellington asks if a magician can kill a man by magic, Strange replies:

“A magician might, sir, but a gentleman never would.”

At which point every even mildly astute viewer groaned a little inside. Because, obviously, we’ll see about that. I think my issue here is that sometimes a great line in a book only ends up being really obvious when it’s delivered with such deliberate nonchalance in a screen adaptation. I suppose it beats having to see the line delivered with melodramatic significance, but I think perhaps they went a little too far in the opposite direction from that here.

Lady Pole's tapestry.
Lady Pole’s tapestry.

In England again, Childermass is having some misgivings about stealing all the Stranges’ mail and says so to Norrell. Norrell is characteristically evasive, but manages to assure Childermass that it’s for the best. Norrell then sends Childermass on an errand, which turns out to be breaking into the Poles’ house and stealing Lady Pole’s tapestry, which he does.

Robbed of her tapestry–effectively having her voice stolen–a distraught Lady Pole attempts to kill herself, only to learn from Mr. Norrell that she cannot die. Not for another seventy-odd years, anyway. This scene is, frankly, absolutely chilling: Lady Pole in her nightdress, strapped to a small bed in an empty room, with Norrell standing over her. Norrell giving her the bad news and then physically trying to silence her anger, frustration and despair. And, finally, Norrell going to Sir Walter, lying about Lady Pole’s condition and then advising Sir Walter to separate Lady Pole from Arabella.

And this is all edited together with more of Strange’s escapades in the war, which on the one hand is perhaps a good thing–to break up these scenes so it’s not just one long sequence of Norrell’s terrible treatment of Lady Pole–but is made into something much less than comfortable when we see what Strange is up to, which isn’t much good. Indeed, Strange is being shaped into someone rather frightening himself.

First, Wellington wants Strange to move an entire forest, which brings up an interesting conversation about how that might be done. Unfortunately, Wellington isn’t interested in Strange’s musings about talking to trees, because I would have loved to hear more about it. When Strange goes to move the forest, he and the men he’s with find themselves under attack. Strange can’t get the forest to move, and while Strange does manage to save the lives of most of the men, Strange’s servant, Jeremy, is hit by cannon fire and dies. Also lost are all of the books that Strange has brought with him to work from.

The dead Neapolitans.
The dead Neapolitans.

This is a significant problem when it comes to Strange’s next task, which is to find out where some Neapolitan soldiers have taken a bunch of cannons they stole. Strange is without any books, the army has no live Neapolitans to question, and scrying in water just shows trees and grass that could be anywhere in the countryside. However, it turns out that they do have some Neapolitan corpses, which Strange brings to life and grants speech to, in an interesting counterpoint to Norrell’s silencing of Lady Pole.

Unfortunately, Strange is no more successful than Norrell with this sort of magic. While Norrell only managed to give Lady Pole half a life, leaving her quite absent from the real world, Strange’s Neapolitans are all to real and persistently alive-ish. And rotting. And begging to be allowed to return to their families.

The burning mill.
The Neapolitans’ fate.

It’s very shortly obvious that Jonathan Strange has done something pretty messed up here and doesn’t have any idea how to undo it. In another parallel to Mr. Norrell, Strange is also lauded as a sort of hero for what is pretty much exactly the sort of magic that he doesn’t want to do at all. This is not modern magic. However, Strange seems consoled as he rides away into a beautiful new dawn while the unlucky undead Neapolitans are burned behind him.

It feels very telling to me how much alike Strange and Norrell seem when Strange finally returns to England. For all their differences in temperament, age, appearance, and experience, they seem very nearly equals now.

Lady Pole comes for Mr. Norrell.
Lady Pole comes for Mr. Norrell.

The episode ends, of course, with Lady Pole’s attempt on Mr. Norrell’s life, in which she misses her mark but succeeds only in shooting Childermass instead.

It’s a great ending to a very busy episode that covered a lot of ground. I still think the show struggles with conveying the passage of time–it’s not at all clear that Jonathan Strange has been gone for some three years, for example–but the pacing of this episode felt just right and the interweaving of the various story lines  was masterfully done. So far, the mini-series is faithful to the book without being a slave to it, and the changes that have been made are mostly smart ones that I think enhance the material rather than otherwise.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “How is Lady Pole?”

For all that the novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is often said to be a slow starter, I feel like the adaptation so far has remained pretty remarkably true to the source material while also moving through it at a pretty good clip. “How is Lady Pole?” covers an enormous amount of story, even more than last week’s episode, and things are getting exciting.

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The rain ships.

The episode opens with one of my favorite bits of magic from the book: Mr. Norrell’s ships made of rain. They’re gorgeous, but this scene, to me, isn’t quite right. The problem isn’t the ships, which are great. It’s that I don’t feel any passage of time. In the book, Norrell’s illusory ships are a blockade that keep the French fooled for eleven days. The way it’s presented here, it looks like just the work of an afternoon; the French see the ships, break out their spyglasses, then immediately row out to them and learn that they are just made of rain. I suppose this is still a waste of French time, but it’s not as impressive as the eleven days of the book, and it doesn’t seem to warrant the degree of congratulations Norrell receives from the ministers in London. It just all seems a bit much, and I think it wouldn’t have been that difficult to at least hint at some greater passage of time here.

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This is a Norrell’s wigs appreciation blog.

That said, I love the way the show has done Mr. Norrell’s scrying. It looks awesome. It’s nice to see this attention to detail when they could just as easily have sort of ignored the less flashy magic in favor of just focusing on bringing to life big stuff like the rain ships. Speaking of details, I also really appreciated Norrell’s wigs in this episode. He’s got a variety of them, and every one is either ratty-looking, ill-fitting, or both. Because, obviously he can’t be bothered. It’s a lovely little bit of visual characterization that makes me think that the people involved in the production are really committed to making something special.

Honeyfoot and Segundus at Starecross/the Shadow House.
Honeyfoot and Segundus at Starecross/the Shadow House.

The show has combined the Shadow House and Starecross into one place, and they’ve moved up Segundus and Honeyfoot looking to open a magician’s school on the property. I’m not thrilled with this change, because I want to see as many great magicians’ houses as possible, but it makes a lot of sense with the way the show is generally just shuffling things around and streamlining events. And, really, it doesn’t matter which house it is; what matters is that Segundus and Honeyfoot are in the right place at the right time to meet Jonathan Strange so they can refer him to Mr. Norrell.

Stephen Black at Lady Pole's dinner party.
Stephen Black at Lady Pole’s dinner party.

In London, Lady Pole is a wonderful dinner hostess. I love how loud and opinionated she is, which make the rest of what happens to her in this episode extra horrifying. I’m kind of surprised by just how much I love the show’s Lady Pole, to be honest. I adored the character in the book, but seeing her brought to life is even better. She definitely improves in adaptation, and I’m especially pleased that the show seems to be making just as certain as the book ever did that we know that Lady Pole is not actually crazy. Rather, she’s enchanted and spitting angry about it.

Stephen Black and the Gentleman.
Stephen Black and the Gentleman.

This episode introduces Sir Walter’s butler, Stephen Black, who is exactly how I imagined him, if a bit more taciturn than I would have liked. Some of that is because basically all the characters that Stephen interacts with in the book have been cut from the adaptation, so he speaks very little except with the Gentleman, and then it’s mostly utterances of confusion and helpless dismay. In the book, Stephen is a complicated character who doesn’t say much but who does think a lot, only here we don’t have the insight into his private thoughts that the book offers. Additionally, I don’t think it helps that they seem to light most of Stephen’s scenes to flatter the white fairy, which makes Ariyon Bakare’s very dark face hard to read at times simply because he nearly fades into the background.

Lost-hope.
Lost-hope.

We do get our first proper look at Faerie in this episode, in flashes in Lady Pole’s dreams and then more thoroughly when the Gentleman takes Stephen there. I absolutely loved the dark forest, the path Stephen follows the Gentleman down, and the outside view of Lost-hope. Once they get inside, though, I was disappointed. Everything is so positively gray, and I would have much preferred to see some color. I’ve always felt like part of the horror of Lost-hope is the dissonance of the place–bright colors and whimsy and dancing, but surrounded by an ancient battlefield and a dark forest and with gloomy tolling bells. There’s too much of a sameness to everything here, and while there is some sparkle, it’s not enough to keep the place from just feeling terribly bleak when I feel like it ought to have instead been disturbing and strange and awful in that way instead.

Strange and Norrell at work.
Strange and Norrell at work.

Probably the most important thing that happens in this episode is the meeting of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and it’s so very like it was described in the book that I felt a little teary. Again, though, the show seems to struggle a little with portraying the passage of time. I love how they show the early days of Strange and Norrell’s partnership (and I laughed out loud at Norrell’s ten year plan written out), but it felt like just a single afternoon and didn’t convey months or even weeks passing before things quickly moved along to other meetings and scenes between character pairs.

Drawlight and Lascelles
Drawlight and Lascelles

This focus on pairs of characters is something else about the book that I’m very glad to see preserved in the adaptation. Indeed, most scenes in the show are between pairs of characters, and this episode in particular either works to pair characters off in significant ways (Strange and Norrell, Stephen Black and the Gentleman, Lady Pole and Arabella) or expands upon our understanding of the relationships between already existing character pairs (Childermass and Norrell, Drawlight and Lascelles, Strange and Arabella, Honeyfoot and Segundus). Like the book, the show is constantly pairing off characters and then switching them around and seeing how they interact in various combinations so that we can see a variety of fascinating contrasts and parallels between them.

Norrell finishes creating his sea beacons.
Norrell finishes creating his sea beacons.

In a sequence that is perhaps a little heavyhanded, we get to see two feats of magic at Portsmouth. First, Mr. Norrell finally completes the series of sea beacons that he promised the government. While a good number of people have gathered on the beach to watch him finish the spell, it turns out that there isn’t anything to see. As one might expect, everyone is terribly disappointed.

Horse Sand.
Horse Sand.

The next morning, however, they are in for a treat. Probably because of the sea beacons, a ship has run aground on a shoal. Norrell claims to have a headache that prevents him from doing anything about it, but Jonathan Strange comes back out to the beach to see if he can help. After a couple of bad ideas, Strange thinks to use the sand itself to upright the ship, and because the shoal is called Horse Sand, he forms the sand into horses that go out to the ship and set it back up in the water. It’s extremely impressive, perhaps even excessively so, and it’s definitely the coolest piece of magic we’ve seen performed so far. Mostly, though, it establishes Jonathan Strange’s reputation as a powerful magician in his own right, and it plants the idea in the ministers’ heads that maybe they could send a magician to the war after all.

Jonathan and Arabella say farewell for now,
Jonathan and Arabella say farewell for now,

By the end of the episode, this is what indeed happens. Although Norrell was at first very opposed to the idea, knowledge of an imminent book sale (provided by Lascelles and Drawlight) convinces him that perhaps Strange would be better off out of the country for a while after all. I hope that Norrell is getting a lot of new books, since Strange is taking forty or so of Norrell’s books with him to the Peninsula.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “The Friends of English Magic”

“The Friends of English Magic” covers a good deal of the first third of its source material, but it still feels as if things are starting off pretty slow. This is reflective of the style of the book, which starts slowly as well and builds up into a dramatic juggernaut over time, and I’m not sure if anything could have been done differently and remained a faithful adaptation. Still, it might have been nice to have a little more excitement.

The episode opens with John Segundus and the question that he puts to the York Society of Magicians and later to Mr. Norrell:

Why is there no more magic done in England?

Quite a tolerable practical magician.
Quite a tolerable practical magician.

I’m happy to see this being translated to the screen so exactly, but I felt like the introduction of Mr. Norrell, in particular, was rushed, and the delivery of Norrell’s statement that he, himself, is a quite tolerable practical magician just didn’t quite work for me. Eddie Marsan looks the part, but his performance, at least in this crucially important scene, is unpleasantly affected-seeming.

Enzo Cilenti as Childermass is a little better. Although I imagined Childermass taller and darker, my main complaint about Cilenti’s portrayal is that he mumbles his lines to a degree that he’s nearly unintelligible. Edward Hogg as Segundus is a little too reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow-era Johnny Depp, but I find the sort of nervous energy he brings to the role endearing rather than otherwise.

I didn’t love the exterior shot of Hurtfew Abbey. It seemed run-down when I think they were going for gloomy, and I don’t really think either of those things are quite right for the magician’s house. Inside, I think they nailed the weirdness of Norrell’s labyrinth, but the library was a bit too medieval-looking. when I would have expected it to be a little more comfortable. The windows and light were nice, but just, in general, I find everything to be a little too grey and brown, which is too bad because I think grey and brown and dull is sort of the aesthetic the show is going for.

Norrell’s feat of magic at York Minster was similarly rushed feeling, almost frantic-seeming, and visually disappointing, again mostly because everything sort of congeals into a monochromatic grey dullness that sucks the life out of every scene.

Drawlight and Lascelles
Drawlight and Lascelles

Even Norrell’s arrival in London only shifts tone from grey to beige; it’s less gloomy but not much more visually interesting. Even Drawlight (a poorly cast, too old, and obnoxiously lisping Vincent Franklin) is sadly muted in a muddy pepto-bismol pink. John Heffernan as Lascelles, on the other hand, is a perfectly bored and jaded almost-aristocrat, and is one of the few casting choices that I wholeheartedly approve of.

Jonathan and Arabella.
Jonathan and Arabella.

Since everything concerning Norrell is so shrouded in gloom, I would have expected Jonathan Strange’s scenes to be a little more bright and colorful, but that’s hardly the case. However, the casting of Jonathan Strange, Arabella, and Henry is on point. Charlotte Riley, in particular is everything I could have hoped for in Arabella, and her expressive face is put to good use in these early scenes. Bertie Carvel’s Jonathan Strange is perhaps a tad too ingenuous, especially since he’s a good deal older here than Strange is when he’s introduced in the book, but he’s likable and not too handsome for the role.

I was very happy to see Jonathan Strange’s father included, although I suppose the time could have been better spent on other material. There were several scenes that I though could have used just an extra thirty or sixty seconds, and the elder Strange just isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. As a reader who loved all parts of the book, I’m glad this made the cut, but I can definitely think of more than one better use of that time.

Possibly the greatest disappointment of this first episode is how quickly they fly through everything concerning Vinculus (Paul Kaye, perfectly cast). There’s no particular scene that has been cut from the source material, and all of the most important events happen in the show just as they did in the book, but every scene with Vinculus is one that could have run just a little longer to better effect. In particular, I would have liked to see the part with Childermass, Vinculus, and the cards of Marseilles taken a lot more slowly, and I think Vinculus’s prophecy to Norrell in the alley could have just been enunciated a little better. I’ve watched it twice now, and both times it came across garbled.

Vinculus.
Vinculus.

On the bright side, Vinculus’s meeting with Jonathan Strange was done nicely. Again, with the mumbling of lines, when I feel like important prophecies should be pronounced more clearly, but overall well-done. This is followed up with Jonathan’s revelation to Arabella and Henry that he plans to study magic, and this scene is one that probably couldn’t have been done better. It bothers me a little that the “enemy” is so clearly recognizable as Norrell, here, but I don’t know how it could have been done differently. When reading the book, this is one of those things that is obvious to the reader but not to the character, and by the time Strange and Norrell meet in the book it’s nearly forgotten because it’s been over a year of book-time. I just have a feeling that it’s going to have to be dealt with differently in the show to avoid making the Stranges seem stupid, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The episode ends right where it ought to: with Mr. Norrell’s resurrection of Miss Wintertowne (later, Lady Pole) and the introduction of the gentleman with the thistledown hair. I didn’t love this. In fact, I feel let down by it.

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Sir Walter and his resurrected bride.

First, let me say that I actually love Alice Englert as Lady Pole. When I heard that the girl from Beautiful Creatures (which was a turd of a film based upon a book that I found unreadably bad) was playing one of my favorite characters, I was definitely apprehensive, but I think she’s going to be okay.

Second, I have to admit that I find myself liking Marc Warren’s Gentleman in spite of myself. I would have preferred a younger actor for the role, but I think he will work after all, once I adjust my expectations.

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The fairy gentleman.

What I feel let down by, though, is the sheer level of gloom that seems to settle over everything. Like Drawlight’s puke pink suit, the Gentleman’s rather moldy-looking green ends up looking grimy rather than atmospheric, and the leafy cutouts around the edges of it are just a bit too heavy-handed a sign of him being a fairy. It’s certainly not magical, and I would have expected this scene, at least, to have something otherworldly about it. It’s not terrible, I suppose, but I find the sort of ever present pall over ever bit of the show to be a little depressing in a way that the book never was. While the show isn’t devoid of humor, I would like to see it being a little more fun. I think the worst thing that could happen would be for it to take itself too seriously.

Reminder: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to air on BBC America starting tomorrow night

The great Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell reread is finished, and tomorrow the show starts airing in the US. I will be posting a recap and analysis of each episode the Monday after it airs.

You can get an early start on the series if you’d like, as the first episode is available to stream already at BBC America.

Watch the first trailer for The Martian

The Martian was a book that surprised me when I read it. It’s definitely a book that seemed to me aimed at the “loves-watching-people-burn-things-for-science-on-YouTube” crowd, but I ended up loving it. It’s smart and funny and while it sometimes feels a little too much like reading hundreds of pages of Hackaday, I still had an inexplicably hard time putting it down.

When I heard it was being adapted for film, I was pleased, and now that I’ve seen the first trailer, I’d rate my feelings about it as excited.