Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ Are Not Equals After All

Photo of Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren

Things aren’t over between Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) and the Gentleman (Marc Warren). Photo: Matt Squire/BBC America

Lady Pole (Alice Englert) is quite alive after Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) resurrected her last week, but she’s not enjoying her new life. After some initial excitement about dancing, she’s shut inside her own house because Sir Walter (Samuel West) and everyone else believe her to be mad. In actuality, she spends her nights dancing in the fairy world with the Gentleman. Stephen Black (Ariyon Bakare), a servant, is also under the same enchantment. It’s not clear yet how the Gentleman intends to make Stephen a king. Neither one is able to tell anyone the truth, but hopefully Norrell or Strange can figure out Lady Pole’s nonsense (which may eventually shift into solvable riddles).

Mr. Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Mr. Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) are intent on setting up a magic school, but they come across Jonathan (Bertie Carvel) and Arabella Strange (Charlotte Riley) in an old and overgrown house. They encourage Jonathan to learn magic from Norrell. It’s a joy to watch Norrell laugh and smile upon meeting Jonathan, especially when he’s excited about the younger fellow’s spell at the mirror. It’s a subtle trick that no one else can see, pointing to kinship that only magicians feel with one another. Marsan’s almost child-like glee is not overdone either.

Friends or Enemies?

The budding relationship is thrown on the rocks right away when Jonathan wants to read Norrell’s books. Yes, the books Norrell has in numerous shelves. His tall step ladder is quite amusing and befitting of the importance he bestows upon his beloved treasures. We also find that the two magicians couldn’t be more different, as Jonathan draws heavily from instinct. His huge display with the sand horses rights a ship trapped by Norrell’s invisible barriers: spectacles are certainly key in magic. Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) and Lascelles (John Heffernan) are also jealous of the newcomer, prompting Norrell to outbid Arabella on magic books that Jonathan really wanted. An all-out duel over books when Jonathan returns? I wouldn’t put it past Norrell to put forth the challenge.

The Gentleman Rules the Evening … and More?

The fairy world is striking, yet we’re not fully introduced to it until nearly two-thirds of the way through the episode. Rather, at the beginning, the frame focuses on point-of-view and close-up shots of Stephen. The heavy breathing, creaking noises, and blurring through the lens all combine to further conjure this sense that we’re being pulled to that chamber with him. The house bells take on an added intensity when we hear them and see the unease of Stephen and Lady Pole in those angled overhead shots. It coalesces into the haunting frenzy in the fairy ballroom with the fairies: the nights that comprise “half” of Lady Pole’s life. Toby Haynes, known for his directing on “Sherlock,” delivers top quality in these scenes.

Marc Warren is fantastic when he appears in a scene, rooting you to the spot with his ever constant gaze. The echoing and sometimes raspy quality of his voice also does much to make him sinister. His silence is ominous as well, such as the exchange of glares between Norrell and the Gentleman at the auction. Taken together with his costume (the Peter Pan shirt is gone for now), Warren’s performance here is much more enjoyable than his time as Rochefort on “The Musketeers.”

What’s up for next week? Here’s a teaser quote from the episode preview: “A magician is not an easy thing to kill.” What could the Gentleman be planning? Is Arabella next on his invitation list for dancing?

“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” airs on Saturday evenings at 10|9c on BBC America.

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