TV Review: Alliance Between ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ Fades in ‘All the Mirrors of the World’

“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” always seemed to have a tenuous friendship at best in the television adaptation on BBC. It can only be as such when Gilbert Norrell (Eddie Marsan) insists on his way in terms of making magic “respectable.” In “All the Mirrors of the World,” the two gentlemen sever their ties, a move precipitated by the publication of Norrell’s book on magic.

Bertie Carvel as Jonathan Strange

Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) Travels Through Mirrors. Photo: JSMN Ltd, Matt Squire / BBC America

The episode opens with the aftermath of Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) attempt to assassinate Norrell, which resulted in Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) taking a bullet for his employer. Norrell is quite testy when the younger fellow awakens, asking why he performed magic on the street. He’s also a bit paranoid at this point, asking how Childermass even knew how to cast such a spell; he’s awfully incredulous when he learns that he showed that trick to Childermass.

Lady Pole is transported by Stephen (Ariyon Bakare) to the place of Mr. Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Mr. Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer), which has been converted from a school of magic into a home for the mentally imbalanced. (The alternative is the notorious Bedlam, which Norrell wishes to avoid.) Surprisingly, Segundus is quite perceptive about magic, as he is able to see roses in the mouths of both Stephen and Lady Pole.

“Let’s All Be Kings”

Meanwhile, Strange (Bertie Carvel) and Norrell call upon the King of England, who sits about and plays the same notes on the piano all day. When Strange returns alone for another visit, he lights a candle and causes the Gentleman (Marc Warren) to be summoned; however, we already know that the King of Lost-Hope does not deign to reveal himself to the likes of Norrell. It’s an amazing scene as the king engages with a chilling (and seemingly one-sided) conversation with the Fairy king: topped off by his walk through the large mirror!

The mirror transports the old man to the English countryside, where Stephen is traveling. Stephen’s offer of assistance rapidly turns sour and riveting all at once as a sword appears in his hand and pulls him toward the king! The alternating close up and wide shots for this scene, combined with Bakare’s superb performance, are pivotal in making you feel like you’re being dragged along with Stephen. Strange retrieves the king just in time.

“Norrellite magic for the modern age”

It’s rather humorous when Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) swindles people out of their money by promising to have Jonathan Strange exact magical punishments on tiresome relatives. Strange, who figures out how to cross through mirrors, gives Drawlight a fright upon interrupting such a meeting. We also find out exactly what Norrell’s brand of magic encompasses: eschewing older magic such as that of the Raven King, the type that Jonathan champions.

Additionally, Norrell envisions himself as the authority on magic, even so much as to insist on having a “magical court” established so he could subject false magicians and charlatans like Drawlight to hanging. Thankfully, Sir Walter Pole (Samuel West) shoots down the idea as ludicrous. Disillusioned with his erstwhile friend, Strange prepares to return to a quiet life with Arabella (Charlotte Riley), writing a bad review of Norrell’s book. However, the young magician is called back to the front with the return of Napoleon.

Initially, Norrell laments the separation, but his quick turnaround with Lascelles (John Hefernan) really makes one question the authenticity of such a friendship. Indeed, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell have spent so much time apart rather than working together, much less even being on the same side. The next episode promises further complications, as both Norrell and the Gentleman plot to destroy Strange.

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