Sunday, 28 June 2015

British fantasy, Doctor Who aside, doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Poke around online geek circles and you’ll see a lot of chatter about swanky American productions like Game of Thrones, but not so many of us seem to have been watching Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a seven-part miniseries from our very own BBC. Which is a shame, as it’s really rather good, and hardly lacking in ambition...

Based on Susanna Clarke’s novel, Strange and Norrell begins in England, 1806 – as the Napoleonic wars rage on, magic, which was widely practiced three hundred years ago, has fallen into disuse. Enter two magicians who will bring magic back to England. The thing is, they can’t always get on. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) is a scholar, believing no spell should be performed until dozens of related books have been thoroughly studied, while his pupil Strange (Bertie Carvel) just wants to skip straight to the cool stuff. It’s high school chemistry all over again.

A wide range of fascinating characters surround these two; there’s the politician’s wife who goes insane after returning from the dead, the enslaved butler told he’s destined for greatness, and to really muck things up, there’s a fairy on the loose, with a ludicrously large quiff that makes it clear his intentions can’t be good.

It’s an expansive tale which has clearly had good money thrown at it. The first episode’s set piece in the beautiful York Minster sets the tone, but it’s the later Battle of Waterloo sequence that really sticks in the mind.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a great achievement for the BBC – a gripping, stylish miniseries, full of weird and wonderful characters, that’s worthy of being ranked alongside Game of Thrones as the best genre television of the year. Now it’s out on DVD and Blu-ray, shut down Netflix for a few hours and give British fantasy the love it deserves.


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