TV Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Is A Magical Time

Magic is returning with the summer premiere of BBC America’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Adapted from the critically praised novel from Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a new miniseries set in early 19th century, “alternate history” England. It’s the time of the Napoleonic wars and magic has all but vanished from the country, no longer seen nor practiced. Enter Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), aligned by his peers for his desire to cast spells. A mishap with a few books leads Jonathan to discover the existence of Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), an accomplished practical magician hiding away in the rural countryside. After a run in with a street magician/prophet named Vinculus (Paul Kaye), who foretells not only the pair of emerging magicians, but the rise of the Raven King, Strange and Norrell pair up almost unwittingly.

Nearly everything about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell feels almost perfect. The show does a tremendous job at building a rich world, complete with settings, costumes, and effects that look as if they’d be at home on the big screen. The miniseries structure demands economic storytelling, however adapter/writer Peter Harness delivers a compelling plot that doesn’t sacrifice character or pacing. The tone of the show lands somewhere around an offbeat darkness, which lends an air of unpredictablilty on the proceedings. Marsan is a standout as the cantankerous and introverted Norrell, throwing in an extra layer of egoism that masks his fear. Carvel captures the ne’er-do-well spirit of Strange, who wants things from life, but is unable to settle down.

Take note: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is television that will demand your attention. Thankfully, it’s also television that deserves it.

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