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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Bring Magic Back to England

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Episode 1: “The Friends of English Magic”

Unlike many books adapted for film and TV, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell seems – at least for now – to be sticking quite closely to the original story, written by Susanna Clarke.  This period piece about the return of magic to England is rich with Napoleanic era sets, costumes, and characters, which portray all stations of life from High Society Aristocrats to street vagrants, giving us a full cross-section of England during the early 19th century.Spoilers_Strange-Norrell

Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) is a reclusive “by the book” practical magician in a time when all “respectable” magicians are theoretical, according to the axiom of the Learned Society of York Magicians, none of whom had ever cast a single spell.  One of their new members, Mr. Segundus (Edward Hogg), has been trying to find books on the subject of magic, and wonders why there is no longer magic done in England.  Segundus finds both books and magic at the home of Mr. Norrell, who has managed to amass a vast personal library on the subject, and assures Segundus that is able to produce real magic.  The Society doubts the claim, challenging Norrell to prove himself, and Norrell succeeds in disbanding the Society with a demonstration at York Minster, establishing himself as the only true magician in England…for the time being.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Childermass (ENZO CILENTI), Vinculus (PAUL KAYE) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Programme Name: Strange & Norrell – TX: n/a – Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) – Picture Shows: (L-R) Childermass (ENZO CILENTI), Vinculus (PAUL KAYE) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

Enter Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), recent heir of an estate and man without a cause: until now.  He happens upon a vagabond street magician named Vinculus (Paul Kaye) who sells him some magic spells, telling him that he is to be the “second magician” in England.  Strange seems fascinated with this suggestion, and with a new respectable career underway, he goes to propose to his beloved Arabella (Charlotte Riley).

Norrell is persuaded to travel to London by his assistant, John Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) to offer his magical aid in the war.  While in London, he meets with Sir Walter Pole (Samuel West) and his fiancée Emma Wintertowne (Alice Englert), who is suffering from an illness.  Sir Walter believes that magic is only to be used for parlor tricks, and rejects Norrell’s offer to help in any military capacity.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Childermass (ENZO CILENTI) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Programme Name: Strange & Norrell – TX: n/a – Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) – Picture Shows: Childermass (ENZO CILENTI) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

Norrell soon learns of Emma’s death, and thinks that there is a way to bring her back, intimating that it could possibly be dangerous.  Against his previous cautions, he calls forth a somewhat mysterious and menacing man (Marc Warren) from the Faerie realm to enlist his magical help.  As he expects, there is always a price to be paid, and agrees to the terms: half of Emma’s life.  To seal the deal, the faerie takes part of Emma’s little finger, and we anticipate that the contract may not be as simple as a shortened life span for poor Emma.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN), The Gentleman (MARC WARREN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Programme Name: Strange & Norrell – TX: n/a – Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) – Picture Shows: (L-R) Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN), The Gentleman (MARC WARREN) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

As the episode closes, Emma is revived, England rejoices that magic has truly returned, Norrell seems to have secured his place to help in the war effort, and Strange will surely have to seek out a teacher of magic to mentor him in his new career.  Since there is only one official magician left in England, we can anticipate an interesting relationship between the outgoing and adventurous Jonathan Strange and the reclusive Mr. Norrell.

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire
Programme Name: Strange & Norrell – TX: n/a – Episode: Ep1 (No. 1) – Picture Shows: Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) – (C) JSMN Ltd – Photographer: Matt Squire

If you are looking for the wonder of magic that J.K. Rowling brought us in the world of Harry Potter, you may be looking in the wrong place.  This magic is gritty and untested.  Only the stout of heart dare tread in the practice of magic, which is not yet completely understood and poorly codified; the consequences could be quite unpredictable.  Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange are charting out this new frontier one new untested spell at a time, which makes it all the more thrilling.

The production value on this program is outstanding.  There is some dialogue that is difficult to catch, however, the characters are diverse, intense, and entertaining.  The set design and costuming is impeccable, and the story, if it’s anything like the book, is well worth the watch.

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