There are conflicts on multiple fronts in this third episode, as Sir Walter hopes for help with Lady Pole’s condition but finds Mr Norrell is unable to do so; his wife tries to communicate her distress to Mrs Strange, but finds herself stymied; and Jonathan Strange – aka Merlin, at least to the Duke of Wellington – discovers the hard way that the life of a magician is not an easy one, particularly when dealing with someone as demanding as the Iron Duke.
There are once again some alterations from Susanna Clarke’s original text, in terms of the timeline, and the fates of some of the characters. Particularly in the case of the latter, the change makes considerable dramatic sense, isolating Strange even more on the Peninsula thus making his acceptance by the “scum of the earth” that bit more powerful. The scenes featuring Strange are very powerful, and the image of the burning windmill with the magician in the foreground is beautifully composed (and a nice tribute to the Universal Frankenstein). Bertie Carvel portrays the changes in Strange in sometimes subtle ways, particularly noticeable in the scene over breakfast on his return.
As ever, this rewards more than one viewing for the period detail, and also for the well-judged use of the incidental music – which I hope will become available separately. There are times that it’s front and centre, and others when it creeps into your awareness as part of the rich atmosphere.
Verdict: Some moments of real horror emphasise the many colours of magic within this series. 9/10