There’s much to love in Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The thought of trying to condense the nearly 800 page book into a 7 part miniseries sounds mad. The fact is, it was done beautifully. There where many wonderful things about it: Childermass on the whole is amazing (perhaps my favorite thing about the book and series alike), and there are many well-loved lines brought to life (“a magician might, but a gentleman never could”; “I am Strange,” “Indeed”; Strange frightening Drawlight by faking death then shouting “Abracadabra!”), Lady Pole’s allusion to the gentleman’s title from the novel (“Your hair’s like thistledown!”). The series is a densely packed 7 hours of magical fun, both whimsically chilling and heartbreakingly hopeful. But ultimately these 5 things brought me the most chills, tears, and/or joy.
5. The Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair
Across the board the characters in the series looked differently than I had envisioned them when reading the novel. This was in no way an unfortunate thing. They didn’t look wrong, just different than I had pictured. The Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair, or as he’s more simply known in the series, The Gentleman, was no exception. I previously knew the actor, Marc Warren, only as Elton from that one weird episode of Doctor Who, but he completely disappeared into this character, so I didn’t know what to expect from him in a role like this.
I was concerned when I saw the first few pictures. He seemed over-the-top, even cartoonish. I mean, check out those eyebrows. Capaldi’s got nothing on him. But somehow, the living breathing article fit perfectly into the Faerie quarters of Strange and Norrell. After all, he isn’t meant to be human. He seemed other worldly with claw-like nails and a chilling voice (the voice work was especially brilliant). He’s properly frightening, but also fun and fanciful.
4. Mr. Norrell Brings the Statues to Life
Not the only magical moment on the list, but impressive in it’s own right. Of course, for the series to work, the magic has to look cool and there are certain sequences that stand out in the book. This scene, as the first moment of big-ticket magic, is one them. It’s the first time we get to see magic and the scene leading up to it is strange (if you’ll pardon the inadvertant pun) and mysterious. And that big open church is SO quiet that the dozens of quietly chattering statues, and their speech slowly growing in volume, is eerie and sometimes even jarring.
The reactions from Segundus, are especially wonderful to watch (he and Honeyfoot are the only two who really seem to enjoy the magic).
And the special effects just look good. The statues always look like statues, with their cracks and shuttering movements.
3. Mrs. Delgado (The Crazy Cat Lady)
I worried the longer the show wore on that this scene would be jettisoned and they’d simply use the mad king to give Strange a solution to his sanity problem. I was downright giddy when the Greysteele’s climbed the steps into the ramshackle room. I mean, it’s all gross and creepy and just plain weird, but I love it and it looked great. I don’t even have anything else to say about it. Loved it.
2. Strange Conjures the Sand Horses
This is by far the best bit of magic in the show and it has a build up to match.
Strange is dragged out of bed one morning to help the navy set a ship upright (the mishap a result of previous magic by Norrell). Everything solution Strange suggests is shot down and he becomes increasingly annoyed when finally he strides toward the water and wills into existence a stampede of horses made out of sand and it’s the coolest. This one really goes to the effects team.
Strange digs his fingers into the sand, a look of in intense determination on his face, and the Earth almost appears to be splitting, then it looks like a sandstorm and then the shapes form, horses, rushing across the water, above the water, and over the ship, setting it upright.
1. Strange Comes Home from the Peninsula War and Is Greeted by Arabella
It’s a small scene, but it really stood out to me in the book. It happens a little differently in the series, but that moment when Arabella finally sees him and he says he’s home…it’s all there in this scene.
It runs longer than it does in the book because they need time to show the thoughts all the characters are having: they’re married and know each other well, but Jonathan has been away for so long that when they reunite there’s a moment when they’re awkward around each other. Almost even shy and fearful. Each can tell the other has changed. But the way they feel about each other hasn’t. And then it all falls away and they’re themselves as they were before.