Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows: Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Marko Ercegovic
OpinionReviewsTelevision & Film

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Manipulations and Tyranny

Banner_Recap

Strange-Norrell_LOGO-sm
Episode 3: The Education of a Magician

Dirty. Gritty. Palpable.  Susanna Clarke’s 19th century world of England has tangible substance, from truly believable characters down to the magic that is performed in such powerful and compelling ways.
Spoilers_Strange-Norrell
The bargain is done: half her life.  Lady Pole awakes from another exhausting sleep and with sudden inspiration, begins shredding the gowns from her wardrobe to create an embroidered tapestry.  She is creating a picture of Lost Hope in an attempt to explain her enchantment to the only person who visits regularly, and also her only possibility of rescue from this nightly imprisonment: Arabella Strange.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Arabella (CHARLOTTE RILEY) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Arabella (CHARLOTTE RILEY) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

Gilbert Norrell’s fear of being discovered as the true cause of Lady Pole’s condition has turned him into a paranoid tyrant.  He intercepts all mail between Jonathan and Arabella, sends Childermass to steal the illustrative tapestry made by Lady Pole, and influences Sir Walter to forbid any more visits from Arabella, “for the Lady’s own good,” effectively cutting her off from the outside world.  Childermass is not all “team Gilbert,” though.  Although he remains a loyal employee to Mr. Norrell, he has misgivings about hijacking the Strange’s letters and speaks up when these deeds begin to weigh heavy on his conscience.

These self-serving acts may preserve Norrell’s reputation; however, once she finds her tapestry missing (and with it, her only means of communication about her predicament), Lady Pole becomes desperate to eliminate this evil curse and attempts suicide.  Norrell visits Lady Pole as she recovers, bound to the furniture to prevent further self-harm and not permitted to receive visitors (at Norrell’s recommendation).  In a rare show of humility, he admits to her that he was tricked by the Gentleman and explains that she will never be rid of this curse as long as she lives.  It’s a good thing that she’s tied up, for when she hears this news, she is much more of a threat to Mr. Norrell than she is to herself.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Lady Pole (ALICE ENGLERT) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Lady Pole (ALICE ENGLERT) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

Norrell’s tyrannical control of “respectable” magic in England reaches beyond Lady Pole’s quarantine, as Childermass visits Mr. Segundus and his friend, Mr. Honeyfoot, warning them not to start the school of magic that they are planning to establish.  You may recall that in Episode 2, Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) were the men who were fascinated by Jonathan Strange’s natural magical abilities and encouraged him to seek apprenticeship with Gilbert Norrell, for lack of a school to learn and develop magical skills.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Marko Ercegovic
Mr Strange (BERTIE CARVEL) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Marko Ercegovic

Having temporarily postponed his magical education and now off on military assignment, Strange is sent to the heart of the war near Lisbon to aid the front line.  He meets great resistance to his presence by everyone, including the impatient and condescending Lord Wellington (Ronan Vibert).

Lord Wellington: “You are the magician: Norrell?”
Jonathan: “I’m afraid that Norrell couldn’t make it; I am Strange.”
Lord Wellington: “Indeed.”

Despite the reservations of the soldiers and the constant chiding and name-calling from Wellington, Strange is able to befriend the ranks and prove himself an asset to the war, creating a road for the troops to travel easily, a heavy mist to shroud the men during an exchange of heavy fire with the French, and (against his better judgement) reanimating three enemy corpses with his own blood for questioning.  To Wellington, the end justifies the means, and he is quite happy with these results that enable him to move on swiftly toward victory.  Strange, however, is clearly disturbed about performing this last feat of magic that he cannot undo, no matter what he tries.  Ironically, it is this very deed of raising the dead that earns him the utmost respect from the troops.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Jonathan Strange (BERTIE CARVEL) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Bertrand Calmeau
Jonathan Strange (BERTIE CARVEL) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Bertrand Calmeau

While Strange is away at war, The Gentleman, smitten with Arabella, schemes to collect her for Lost Hope.  He seizes an opportunity after Lady Pole attempts to kill herself, hoping to extract payment from Arabella while she is emotionally compromised in exchange for helping Lady Pole.  Arabella (apparently not compromised in the least) scolds him for expecting remuneration for a service that is within his means to give freely, and leaves him with a wounded ego, more determined than ever to have her.

The Gentleman turns his attention to Stephen Black, the head of staff at the Pole Estate, who is confused about being prophesized as the “slave with no name who shall become king.”  The Gentleman conjures a scene to show Stephen the truth.  In the scene, Stephen’s mother, in chains on a slave ship, gives birth to him and dies before naming him.  The ship is owned by the Pole family, who christened him as Stephen Black, raised him, and educated him in the English tradition, never telling him of his true heritage.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Stephen Black (ARIYON BAKARE) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Stephen Black (ARIYON BAKARE) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

Jonathan returns home to Arabella, and Norrell calls on him immediately and in a thinly-veiled excuse to get his loaned books back quickly, invites Jonathan (with the books) for breakfast in the morning to hear all about his adventures of war.  Little does Gilbert Norrell know, human lives were not the only casualty during Jonathan’s trip abroad: all 40 of Norrell’s books were destroyed in the altercation with the French. The only book to survive the explosion was Strange’s own copy of The Raven King. This should be a good chat over breakfast that we won’t want to miss.

Norrell learns that his meddling, like faery magic, comes with consequences.  At the end of this episode, Lady Pole escapes her bonds, secures a firearm and confronts Norrell as he steps from his carriage.  Loyal and ever-watchful John Childermass intervenes and is shot instead, saving the magician’s life.  We exit this week as Lady Pole is apprehended and Childermass is lying on the pavement in a spreading pool of blood as Norrell looks on in disbelief.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Lady Pole (ALICE ENGLERT) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Lady Pole (ALICE ENGLERT) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

In Clarke’s alternate history, magic consists of manipulating the natural elements with bare hands and clever intuition.  Via some truly superb special effects, we’ve seen our magicians use the elements of the earth at their disposal.  They’ve conjured ships from water and horses from sand, animated stone statues, and created roads from the rocks of the land around them.  It would seem that the manipulation of inanimate objects is a fairly straightforward business, and, as Norrell likes to call it, “respectable.”

On the other hand, manipulating organic matter magic, such as moving trees or resurrecting the dead, is a very different thing indeed, and calls upon ancient and mysterious magic that is poorly understood and somewhat foreboding.  This faery magic seems parallel to the Dark Arts referred to in the Harry Potter stories, and we all know where that leads the magicians who use it.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Jonathan Strange (BERTIE CARVEL) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Bertrand Calmeau
Jonathan Strange (BERTIE CARVEL) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Bertrand Calmeau

I’ve enjoyed these characters and this particular brand of magic at an entirely different level than the world created by J. K. Rowling (no offense, Jo: I’m still a huge fan). Clarke’s is a world of great subtleties and finesse, where there is no clear good and evil; just the real ebb and flow of human interactions driven by ego, fear, insecurities, curiosity, compassion and love.  Unlike Voldemort, Norrell is not completely evil; his motivation is entirely self-preservation of his public image and his personal philosophies.  Unfortunately, as a teacher, he is no Dumbledore, either.  Occasionally, he has rare, vulnerable “human moments” that make him a truly believable, and hopefully redeemable, character.  I want to see Norrell evolve and embrace the idea that true synergy happens when things (even magic) are allowed and shared with others…something that rings true in our own alternate reality as well.

Banner_EndTransmission_mini

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
12 + 10 =


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

SciFi4Me.com