Those who felt that the pace of the opening episode was a bit slow will probably find this week’s instalment more to their liking – there are a couple of effects showpieces, and rather than simply being introduced to the characters, we see them moving their various designs forward.
There’s rather more of Bertie Carvel’s Jonathan Strange this week, as he seeks to understand why Mr Norrell seems to be deliberately trying to hold him back and not allowing him access to all the precious books that might give him a better grounding in magic. His innate gifts in the art come to the fore in the second of the two showcase sequences with a very well-composited mix of live action and CGI for the seashore scenes. There certainly seems to be a slight shift from the book in terms of Strange’s priorities – I don’t recall him being quite so affectionate with his wife, and always got the impression with Strange that the getting rather than the having was more important.
Samuel West also rises to the material, with Sir Walter caught in a world from which he seems to be benefitting but doesn’t fully comprehend why things are falling apart around him. There are a couple of very powerful moments with Ariyon Bakare’s Stephen Black, who in some ways seems to be the link between the magical realm and the “real” one – as with Enzo Cilenti’s Childermass, it’s worth watching him in the background of scenes for some spot-on reactions.
As for Eddie Marsan’s Mr Norrell, it’s hard to tell yet whether he’s seeking to protect Strange from dealings with the Gentleman, or if he’s simply hoarding knowledge because it’s what ought to be done. Like Sir Walter, he seems to be being swept along by events rather than controlling them…
Everything I said in the review of the first episode stands with regard to the production values and Toby Haynes’ direction – this is a show to watch in HD and/or later on Blu-ray to spot everything that has been incorporated. It’s not “switch your brain off” TV: Harness’ script allows (and indeed sometimes expects) you to make connections.
Verdict: Maintaining the standard of the first part, this rewards more than one viewing. 9/10