TV review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, BBC One
Lavish adaptation of Susanna Clarke's fantasy novel, starring Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel
Susanna Clarke's epic fantasy novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, gets the full weight of the BBC's period drama department behind it for a new seven part series. It brings to life a Georgian Britain where magic exists; yet it hasn't been performed openly in England for 300 years.
The vast majority of society has ceased to believe magic is real – apart from young scholar Segundus (Edward Hogg) who tracks down one of the last practitioners of the art, the titular Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan).
Mr Norrell is a mysterious and serious conjurer ensconced in a dusty gothic mansion in the depths of darkest Yorkshire. After a show of power (a grandly executed set piece in York Minster), tales of his exploits reach London as Norrell heads to the capital offering his services to help in the Napoleonic war. But he has a hard time convincing others of his credentials.
He might not be the only 'real' magician in the country either, as the more flippant carefree Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) is just starting to exhibit some mystical powers while trying to impress his girlfriend Arabella (Charlotte Riley).
The opening episode has a lot of ground to cover, effectively establishing our fictional world and introducing the characters. It's a lavish production, part Harry Potter, part Vanity Fair, with a dash of Doctor Who.
Marsan is fantastic, lending his role a genuine sincerity that makes the supernatural elements more convincing. Carvel hardly gets any screen time by comparison, though – as readers of the book know – this will change as the series progresses.
There are only hints at the larger overarching storyline, with Paul Kaye popping up as a vagabond street sorcerer spouting dark prophecies and as the episode closes we are dragged deeper into the realm of fantasy. A spellbinding start.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell starts on BBC One, Sun 17 May, 9pm.