Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Premiere Recap: “The Friends of English Magic”
No, it isn’t a Terry Pratchett adaptation. Nor is Neil Gaiman anywhere to be found. But the series makes an excellent, brisk start nonetheless, since anything that begins with a man in a tricorn hat and frock coat works for me. Bit like this:
Our friend in the tricorn hurries to a York meeting of old, white dudes, or theoretical magicians, congratulating one another. He stands to ask a fateful question: why is magic no longer done in England?
Some bookshop espionage leads to a creepy country pile and a fabulously gothic library in search of the answer, all owned by practical magician Mr. Norrell (as played by the excellent Eddie Marsan).
Cue another meeting of the Old White Dudes, who insist on proof of Norrell’s powers, and a collective field trip to York Minster. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is making someone at a Yorkshire tourist office giddy, with atmospheric lighting making the city look freshly sprung from the brain of JK Rowling.
In what’s sure to be the first of many nifty bits of CGI, Norrell makes the minster’s medieval statues come to argumentative life, resulting in a disbanding of the Old White Dudes.
We then move on to the second magician of the piece, occupied in this episode by lurking in churchyards and making awkward marriage proposals to his girlfriend. Not husband material, young Jonathan, nor is he A Man Of Destiny. (Strap yourselves in, girls and boys; several characters here speak in phrases that demand capitalisation).
A sexier prospect than Mr. Norrell, Jonathan’s a little upset after being turned down by said girlfriend, Arabella, and failing to persuade his unpleasant dad that he’ll amount to much. Though any argument that ends with ‘while I’m still living’ in a period drama tends to bode about as well as a wet, hacking cough.
In the meantime, Norrell moves to London, to offer his services to MP Walter Pole for the (Napoleonic) war effort and to make his name. Attempts to get in with the cool kids of London society fall flat. Still, who wouldn’t rather read than party, right?
Enter fey social climber Drawlight, in a deliciously uncomfortable introduction, and street magician Vinculus, as played by Paul Kaye, in a rather hairier one.
Both meetings result in a slightly risky idea: bringing Pole’s dead, rich fiancée back from, y’know… the dead. While Norrell considers the idea, Jonathan decides to settle into his new role as a responsible landowner (in a more fabulous hat than everyone else), when he comes across Vinculus, who advises Jonathan of his Destiny. The revelation fails to impress Arabella, until he manages a quietly terrifying dinner-table trick.
It’s hardly a surprise that Norrell overcomes his principles to bring Pole’s fiancée back, with a help of a mysterious, dangerous visitor (who needs a hat, or even magic, when your hair looks like this?)
To make the feat work, Norrell strikes a bargain likely to haunt him in later episodes, but getting to exactly how should be fun – hoping for more humour, huge hair and great hats.
—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]