Susanna Clarke’s story of the great practitioners of English magic comes to life in Peter Harness and Toby Haynes’ adaptation…
Those who have followed our weekly reviews of the BBC’s lavish production of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will know that it’s been a constant joy and delight. Peter Harness has taken Clarke’s sometimes sprawling novel and streamlined it into a fully coherent tale spread across seven hours of television, with Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel excellent as the two magicians of the title, both demonstrating how human emotions and frailties can lead one astray. Around them director Toby Haynes has put a strong cast with Marc Warren’s the Gentleman a fine opponent, and Enzo Cilenti and Ariyon Bakare making their mark on every scene as Childermass and Stephen.
Those who love the book will enjoy how closely Harness hews to the story although he hasn’t slavishly followed each and every plot development – characters die in one version but not in another, for example – and I suspect that this version will gain more fans as something that can now be binge-watched. The level of detail in the production is incredible, and every scene merits a second viewing, sometimes for the little background elements, other times for the reaction shots of those not at the forefront (Samuel West and Bakare particularly).
In addition to pristine copies of the seven episodes, the Blu-ray contains some interesting added material: a twenty-five minute look at the making of the show is supplemented by two “making-of” videos which show how on-location filming was enhanced (one might actually go so far as to say transported!) into a 19th century environment. There are 11 minutes of deleted scenes, the last two of which – one with West and Bakare sharing some important backstory, the other with John Heffernan’s Lascelles reacting not too well to the concept of democracy – are worth the price of the disc alone. The bloopers will raise a wry smile as horses do what they’re renowned for doing…
Verdict: A stunning piece of television fantasy. 9/10
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