Magically Sexy: Strange & Norrell


I hear that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has made it over to the other side of the pond now, so I want to say a few things about how much I love this show. I’m reading the novel now and it’s one of those rare cases where the pleasure of the programme increases the pleasure of the reading. It hits all the marks for me because it’s magical and historical with a stellar cast — and costuming. I’ve already found several tumblrs that go crazy over the clothes.

Bertie Carvel plays Jonathan Stange and is just about as dashing a magician as you could wish, though perhaps the most attractive thing about him is how he dotes on his singular wife, Arabella (played by Charlotte Riley whom made a great Catherine Earnshaw opposite Tom Hardy’s Heathcliffe). I said on Twitter that I’d love to see an offshoot series, Arabella Strange Learns the Language of Birds. She’s such a terrific character.

It’s a delight to see the machinations of The Gentleman with the thistle down hair as he tries to move people around like chess pieces, though you rather hope that the utterly elegant Stephen Black (played with amazing power by Ariyone Bakare) and poor Lady Pole (Alice Englart) manage to survive. You don’t have to know anything about the period to love the characters, for their plights are totally engaging.

I haven’t mention Mr Norrell yet, have I? He’s played by the absolutely riveting Eddie Marsan. But he’s a bit of a fusspot to be honest. Not that I don’t totally envy his library with great drooling desire. And I completely identify with his preference for books to people and parties.

But I feel more in tune with Strange’s trust of his intuition and enjoy his cheerful buoyant optimism in the face of all kinds of adversity — and there is adversity to spare in this tale. Here’s to practical magicians in preference to theoretical ones!

Oh, but I haven’t got to the most appealing character, have I? Well, let me now turn to the curmudgeonly, gruff, unpolished, Northerner (of course 😉 ) Childermass. He’s nominally Norrell’s servant, but he’s so much more. The horrible Londoners who bewitch the magician overlook him at their peril. It is the power of the ignored to see so much more. I’d gladly spent an evening in a rundown pub with Childermass and his hand drawn tarot cards than with the finest of the ton in London. But that’s me.

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