The lines between television and film are now blurred. What was once seen as the poor relation is now the place that’s pushing boundaries in storytelling. The big screen may have always had the scope for spectacle but that’s no longer the case. More and more television series are increasing their scope and rivalling movies in terms of top tier production values – and that’s the case with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
Based on Susanna Clarke’s 2004 bestselling novel, this seven-part miniseries is set in the 19th Century, a time when magic has all but died out. Two magicians Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvell) and & Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) attempt to reintroduce it, however it would appear that magic has no place in a world filled with politics and war.
Darkly comic and sly, it’s easy to see why many tried to (unsuccessfully) adapt Clarke’s novel into a film. It would have been a disaster for sure, as the near 800 page tome could never have been adapted into a two or even three hour movie. This seven-part mini-series creaks under the weight of its sprawling tale with half the running time which is almost inconceivable. Peter Harness does a good job at adapting Clarke’s for the screen, but he could have trimmed an additional bit of fat, keeping things leaner and less meandering.
Toby Haynes does a splendid job of realising a 19th Century England that’s at war with France. This could be a feature film, and he harnesses the use of special effects to good affect. His background in directing Hollyoaks may not be evident but his work on Doctor Who obviously put him in good stead for ushering a tale of this magnitude to the screen. The series is perfect Sunday viewing but it would have been better if things went a little darker at times.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell also has a great cast. Marsan does good work as the snobbish and stand-offish Norell, while Carvell is solid (if a little bumbling) as his one-time apprentice. Also dotted throughout the show is Charlotte Riley, Marc Warren and Paul Kay.
It’s mind-boggling to think that a mini-series of this scope aired on the BBC. It may have had international funding but Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell shows that even British television is rising up to challenge Hollywood.
Good bonus material supplements the entertainment. You get a making-of, deleted scenes, galleries, bloopers and some bits on the special effects.