Sunday, September 18, 2016

Strange World

Anyone who was paying attention to fantastic literature in 2004 knows about Susanna Clarke's book. Many of those were excited to hear that it was made into a TV series: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015).

It is set in an alternate England around the time of the Napoleanic wars. In this England, magic is considered real, but never practiced, as that would be ungentlemanly. But one eccentric gentleman of York, Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) demonstrates "practical" magic and changes everyone's mind. He's a reclusive scholar who jealously protects his books and his secrets, with only his thuggish butler (Enzo Chilenti) for company.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) has just inherited his father's fortune. He would be happy to fritter it away, but his fiancee (Charlotte Riley) wants him to be someone. So he decides to become a magician - and it works.

Mr. Norrell gets involved in English politics when he brings the Prime Minister's fiancee back from the dead. This also gets him involved with another kind of politics - the fairy court. The backstory of the alternate England is that it was once ruled by the Raven King, a magician who was served by fairies, and possibly undone by them.

The series (like the book) has fun with a number of themes - fame and politics, the possible futility of military magic, and the deviltry of fairy gifts (as a metaphor for addiction?). Parts are funny, parts are frightening, and the relationship between Strange and Norrell, Strange and his bride, and so on, are just human.

It is also well cast and set, with the budget this kind of production needs. Worth watching.

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