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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

a few thoughts on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (and open thread)

strangenorrell

I just watched last night’s debut episode of the BBC’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell — based on Susanna Clarke’s fabulous and sprawling historical fantasy novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] [iTunes U.S.] [iTunes Canada] [iTunes U.K.] — and I love it. I love the book: imagine if Jane Austen wrote Harry Potter, but instead of kids as its central characters it features fusty old academics, ambitious politicians, social climbers, and other unpleasant fellows. (Yes, most of the major players are men, alas.) This adaptation is visually fascinating: it’s not a pretty costume drama but something dirtier, nastier, and somehow itchy. No one’s clothes seem to fit well. Men’s wigs are forever askew. “Fashionable” parties are claustrophobic and loud. The streets of 1806 London are mucky. It’s all very grubby… which is brilliant. This is a story about people who don’t really fit in, and the two titular characters — the last magicians left in England to revive ancient magic — and don’t really like each other. Nothing is comfortable here, and the only magic that gets done is pretty darn creepy.

The cast so far is wonderful, and beyond the always fantastic Eddie Marsan as Norrell and Samuel West as a politician he tries to curry favor with, mostly unknown to me. Oh, and there’s Marc Warren as the mysterious Gentleman (whom we know from the book as the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair), who is waaaay more sinister than he seemed in the book, and he’s barely made an appearance so far.

Can’t wait for next week!

What do you think of the series so far?

(JS&MN debuts on BBC America on June 13th.)


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