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


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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Tue, May 19, 2015 6:34pm

I haven’t heard anything about this show (being from Canada and all) but it sounds like fun. Is it the kind of alternate history that seems accurate and quite recognizable apart from a few major changes. Like, “oh look the Napoleonic War, I know how this goes,” but then, “Dragons performing airstrikes on the British fleet? Nelson’s in trouble now.” Or is it the kind of Alternate “history” where everything is weird and different except for a few minor similarities like, “Oh look London has been stolen by bats and is now living in an underground sea… but everyone still dresses the same and acts like stereotypical “British People.”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Constable
Tue, May 19, 2015 10:51pm

Is it the kind of alternate history that seems accurate and quite recognizable apart from a few major changes.


reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, May 19, 2015 11:52pm

Nice, love that sort of thing.

Tue, May 19, 2015 8:23pm

i don’t know… the Gentleman in the book is super creepy, i think. he always makes me think of that horrific scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo wants to take the ring from Frodo and his face and body change into that hideous, pointy toothed creature. every time Thistledown appears, that’s what I picture… maybe it’s his interior that i’m picturing.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Tue, May 19, 2015 10:52pm

I meant that he’s even creepier than in the book.