Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – Series Finale

Events continue at a quick pace in the final chapter of BBC series Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) returns from Venice with Strange’s message and Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) finger. Lascelles (John Heffernan) kills him, set against any potential alliance between Strange (Bertie Carvel) and Norrell (Eddie Marsan). His deception is detected by Childermass’ cards.

Norrell and Childermass

Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) and Childermass (Enzo Cilenti), Photo: JSMN Ltd. / Matt Squire

Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) departs for the sanatorium of Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) to reach Lady Pole, who is under a sleeping enchantment. It’s an amazing sight when Strange’s black tower relocates from Italy and descends upon Mr. Norrell’s estate in England. Strange creates a labyrinth and conjures up fire to frighten Norrell in the library. Norrell fights back feebly with rain, inadvertently breaking the tension in the chamber.

Strange requests Norrell’s help in summoning the Raven King (Niall Greig Fulton) to help them kill the Gentleman and rescue Arabella (Charlotte Riley). There’s a heartfelt moment when Norrell reveals “the most beautiful book of magic [he’s] ever read:” Jonathan’s book on the history of magic. It’s a neat role reversal as Strange becomes the teacher and reassures Norrell that it’s all right to be afraid. Meanwhile, Childermass, Segundus, and Honeyfoot are busy attempting to reattach Lady Pole’s finger to wake her, a move that Childermass determines to be a mistake. The Gentleman (Marc Warren) follows and attacks everyone, trying to induce Stephen (Ariyon Bakare) to kill Sir Walter (Samuel West).

Oddly enough, the Raven King has been mentioned ad nauseum since the beginning of the series, yet he only appears for a couple of minutes. He teleports to Vinculus’ (Paul Kaye) location, where he revives dead man. Childermass is also on the scene, astonished to find that the text on Vinculus’ body is new. Norrell and Strange try to summon the Raven King back with the promise of all of English magic held in the former’s books. They refer to him as “the nameless slave,” which is also Stephen’s name. “We channeled all of English magic into a butler?!” Norrell exclaims with dismay, after Stephen emerges from the flurry of ravens. Henry bursts in and shoots Stephen in the chest, drawing the ire of the Gentleman.

Gentleman (Marc Warren)

Will the Gentleman (Marc Warren) succeed? Photo: JSMN Ltd. / Matt Squire

The hurried chain of developments here works to the detriment of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It interferes with good production decisions like strong casting and reasonably well done special effects. Norrell’s giddiness at traveling to this magical world is a standout moment for Eddie Marsan, as are his declarations on “the virtue of a good, English rain.” Strange reunites briefly with Belle, pushing her through a mirror to the safety of Flora’s (Lucinda Dryzek) rooms in Venice.

The final confrontation in the fairy kingdom receives less attention, taking away the importance of Stephen’s triumph. Restored to health by his new magic, he rises and kills the Gentleman, his longtime tormentor. Even so, Ariyon Bakare and Marc Warren have continually delivered on their scenes together as they capture that balance of fascination, curiosity, fear, and intense dislike from both sides.

In keeping with the dark tone of the series, there’s no happy ending. Friends at last, Strange and Norrell remain trapped in the black tower, ascending into the sky to some unknown realm. Belle gets Jonathan to promise that he’ll try to come back to her, leaving circumstances very open-ended for a sequel. Underused characters such as Childermass and Vinculus (who carries a new book) may be promising in a spin-off of their own, too. Whatever the case, it’s clear that matters are far from resolved in this alternate world of Napoleonic England.

This article was originally posted to Blogcritics.org as “TV Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – Series Finale.”

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