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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. Yes.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is Being Made Into a BBC Miniseries. Someone Pass Me My Smelling Salts, I’m Feeling Faint.

Gotta tell you, when I slept through all my alarms this morning I thought it was a sign that today was going to be awful. How wrong I was. This might not be the biggest news to come out this week, but to me, it’s the best: Susanna Clarke‘s fantasy novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will be a BBC miniseries.

Excuse me while I freak out.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is an alternative history fantasy novel set in a 19th century England where magic, long since disappeared, mysteriously starts working again. The book is often described as “Harry Potter meets Jane Austen,” and its blending of fantasy elements with the historical is one of the reasons I love is so much.

In fact, it’s my second favorite book of all time (after The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is #1 forever), and though nothing has ever come of the long-rumored film version, I’ve never quite given up hope that some sort of adaptation might happen. I’ve said before that it would make the perfect BBC miniseries, not only because there’s too much going on in it to squeeze into two hours, but also because fantasy adaptations and British period dramas are, to paraphrase Zoolander, so hot right now.

And now it’s actually happening. Praise be to the Raven King!

Down to brass tacks: The adaptation will be in six hour-long parts and will be directed by Toby Haynes, who’s done several episodes of Doctor Who (including The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang) and Sherlock‘s The Reichenbach Fall. The series is being written by Peter Harness, who wrote the third season of Wallander.

The show was literally just commissioned, so we probably won’t be getting any casting information for a few months at least. But still. Indulge my whim for completely unrealistic fantasy casting. David Kelly‘s long been my mental vision of Norrell, but he’s dead, so… Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin in Game of Thrones)? Or Ian Holm. James McAvoy would be a perfect Jonathan Strange, and I love Chiwetel Ejiofor for Stephen Black. I’m going to envision John Childermass as Severus Snape no matter who they cast. As for the Man with the Thistle-Down Hair: Cate Blanchett. You know it’d be awesome.

Someone needs to join me in my excitement lest I start feeling self-conscious. I can’t be the only one to whom this is more-than-excellent news.

(Den of Geek, via

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  • Ashley Sue

    THANK YOU, BRITAIN. I need NOTHING for Christmas now, because this is happening.

  • sharmylae

    first neverwhere, now this?! the beeb is spoiling us lit nerds.

  • Anonymous

    This is awesome.

  • Loonerist_Spies

    I had been looking for a reason to re-read this.

  • Rachel Abbey

    Tilda Swinton would also be an excellent Man with the Thistle-Down Hair. Natalie Dormer as Emma, Lady Pole.

  • Anonymous

    Sweet! I had a really hard time getting into the book because of the slow start and all the footnotes, so I ended up listening to it on tape. This is the perfect sort of book for the BBC to make into a show.

  • Corbomite

    This is wonderful. I swear by Bird and Book I’ll get everyone I can to watch(and properly pay) for this when it it arrives.
    Like your casting ideas, but on the spectrum Norrell is (in my mind) much more Ian Holm than Donald Sumpter(more self-important bore than actually vicious).

  • Rebecca Pahle

    YES. Agreed on both of those.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I seem to remember Norrell having a little bit of an 11th hour badass thing going on (was I imagining that? I need to reread.), which is why I went with Sumpter. But Holm could pull that off, too.

    I’m sure they’ll cast someone completely different anyway. I’m just so happy this is happening!

  • Corbomite

    Ignore me, I just confused Donald Sumpter and David Bradley. Sumpter would be amazing.

  • Anonymous

    OMGOMGOMG!!! YES!! I hope they throw enough money at it to make it awesome! There are some epic magic and battle scenes that probably need some quality CGI to work.

  • Bri Lance

    Yeah… I’m really concerned about whether they’ll be able to pull off the special effects well enough on a BBC budget.

  • Michael J Winegar

    The Man with Thistledown Hair: Bendict Cumberbatch, he’s so cold and elfy and alien. Or Andy Serkis, though I love the suggestion of Tilda Swinton. That woman gives me the shivers.

    Ian Holmes MUST be Mr. Norrell.

    Tom Hiddleston as Childermass!

    David Tenant as Vinculus. Or Simon Pegg.

    Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther from Bleak House) as Arabella Strange

    Djimon Hounsou for Stephen Black

    Michael Gambon as the King, naturally. Or Jeremy Irons.

    Richard Armitage as the Raven King. Or Jeremy Irons.

    Who to be Jonathan Strange, though? I think James McAvoy would make a much better John Segundus. He’s not spacy enough to be Strange. Damien Lewis maybe?

    Lady Pole is also giving me grief. I can’t think of an actress who is both young enough and stately enough and would look good with the maddened exhaustion from the nights dancing in Lost Hope.

  • Anonymous

    I actually think Tom HIddleston would be a great Jonathan Strange, and he has a long nose and slightly reddish hair. Michelle Dockery for Lady Pole, or Carrie Mulligan.

  • Michael J Winegar

    Michelle Dockery would be a perfect Lady Pole! She could probably swing Arabella, too.

    Now, where to fit in Maggie Smith…

  • Indileen

    Michelle Dockery as Arabella is perfection.

  • Indileen

    Jonathan Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch
    Gilbert Norrell – Derek Jacobi/Ian Holm
    John Childermass – Tom Hiddleston
    Christopher Drawlight – Harry Lloyd
    Henry Lascalles – Paul Bettany
    Arabella Strange – Michelle Dockery
    Emma Pole – Natalie Dormer
    John Segundus – James McAvoy
    Mr Honeyfoot – Jim Broadbent
    Vinculus – David Tennant
    Flora Greysteel – Romola Garai
    Lancelot Greysteel – Geoffrey Rush
    Chivetel Ejiofor – Stephen Black
    The Gentleman with Thistledown Hair – Tilda Swinton
    The Raven King – Richard Armitage (if he had to be younger, I would bet on Ben Barnes, but he can’t act to save his life, so better not.)
    Sir William Pole – Colin Firth
    Duke Wellington – Hugh Grant
    King George III – Michael Gambon

    I know that some of these names are too big for the BBC, but if it worked, it would be a “let’s put all Indileen’s favourites into one film!” kind of TV series. :)

  • Gillian Pilgrim

    I like Chiwetel Ejiofor in anything.

  • Kailee Bruce


  • Jonathan H. Avidan

    I. ALMOST. DIED. In my (oscar)wildest dreams never did I imagine my favourite book would be made into a _BBC MINISERIES_. Life can be good. Unless the adaptation sucks.

  • Serafina Kernberger

    When does it pick up? I just gave up on this book maybe 2 weeks ago because I was still bored about 1/3 through it (300 pages, which is a lot to be bored through).

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm…hard to say exactly when, especially because I listened to this on CD. I’d say it’s a little bit like reading Lord of the Rings….some exciting parts mixed into a lot of boring stuff, but the overall story is actually pretty awesome in retrospect.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I like a lot of these suggestions, especially Simon Pegg, Michael Gambon or Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Sheen, and Mark Williams.

    Simon Woods could also pull off Strange, at least in terms of appearance. He did the spacey ginger thing quite well in Pride & Prejudice.

    Not sure about Hiddleston as Childermass, though. He doesn’t seem gritty enough.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Can’t remember her name for the life of me, but there’s that female magician who died centuries before the story starts. The one whose house Strange and Segundus met at? Smith could play an older version of her during a flashback. A stretch, admittedly, but anything to include Maggie Smith.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I very much like this list. How ’bout Ben Wishaw for a younger Raven King?

    (And what do you MEAN Ben Barnes can’t act? Did you not appreciate his accent in Prince Caspian?! Clutching my hand to my chest right now.)

  • Indileen

    Ben Whishaw – yes, please! With slightly longer hair. Stylized as Keats in Bright Star. About Barnes – well, I can’t deny that he looks like someone who is a real treat for the Sidhe, but he’s not exactly my Caspian till today, even with the accent. Sorry :P

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I was being sarcastic about Barnes—that Caspian accent was ridiculous. Sorry it didn’t come through… tone on the Internet, arrrrgh!

  • Jess

    Benedict Cumberbatch for Strange, please. He can do snarky and ironic so well! I think Cate Blanchett is inspired casting as The Gentleman. David Bowie would also work for me.

  • Shay

    it’s unfortunate that susanna clarke specified the “man” with thistle down hair, cuz i can get behind cate blanchett. i also need a sexy jonathan strange… that man is MY ULTIMATE SWOON MACHINE. even when he’s crazy!

    i hope they do this right. although it’s a BBC miniseries. they usually do those things right.


  • Indileen

    Her name is Maria Absalom (recently re-read JS&MN and is a show-off).

  • Indileen

    I supposed that, but I wasn’t sure, so I chose a safer option of response. :P

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Since the character’s described as being so androgynous, I think them casting a woman isn’t outside the realm of possibility. I hope not, anyway. Blanchett’s been my headcanon for years.

  • Shay

    Yeah I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch. When is this gonna happen????

  • Samantha Collins

    Maggie Smith would be excellent in a cameo as Mrs. Lennox, the cunning widow who becomes Mr. Segundus’ patroness for the failed magic school, then the mad house.

  • Vince Harris

    Imogen Poots as Lady Pole would be brilliant casting. Whenever I’ve read the book, I always envisage Adrian Scarborough as Mr Norrell