I recently caught up on a show I had missed but was intrigued by, that show was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. This new drama from the BBC is an interesting new fantasy period drama. At first glance it may look like your average BBC historical bore fest but I was pleasantly surprised to realise that it is not that at all…
One of the little details that I love about this show is that it actually features regional accents. It’s good to hear the Yorkshire accent and dialect in a period, fantasy drama. These sorts of shows usually only feature the stereotypical posh, well spoken voice. Presumably this is where a lot of people around the world pick up the false notion that everyone in the United Kingdom speaks like they were born into aristocracy. The formal speech of the time mixed in with regional accents and dialect makes the dialogue very enjoyable to listen to. What is great about the dialogue is that it isn’t entirely clipped, it is often full of stumbles, omissions, false starts and reiterations in a beautifully organic way.
My early thoughts on the first episode were that it has a very pleasing visual style that makes the imagination run wild. They do not need to have locations that are really over the top with CGI created fantasy stuff because the brain fills in the blanks. This is a world where magic once existed but has now faded into obscurity, so all that is needed is the indication of this to give the audience the feeling of there being forgotten wonders that are ready to resurface. Some of the visuals are very typical of a historically based show but there is just something about the buildings and the streets of York that you just can’t place. On the surface everything seems normal but with an air of magic. The initial trip into Mr Norrell’s house in the inaugural episode was very well done. There was a nice use of effects on the walls as the characters meandered through the “convoluted” passageways of the ancient manor. It almost seemed like the walls were bending inwards in a hallucinogenic way. When the characters finally walk through the doors into Norrell’s library the music soars up. These occasional noticeable moments where the soundtrack makes itself known remind you that it is the beginning of an adventure.
Eddie Marsan’s character Mr Norrell is incredibly well done. It is no secret that Marsan is an extraordinary actor capable of completely transforming himself. Except for differences in wardrobe Marsan rarely looks any different in his various roles. However, his acting is so strong that you actually forget that this is the same person that played Pete in The World’s End. Which by the way is and absolutely fantastic piece of cinema and tied up Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy beautifully. There is something about the way many of these characters are played that they are magnetic. They are also clearly very well cast as they feel very authentic. The cast is a selection of excellent British actors with interesting looks and cool voices.
The first scene that magic was introduced was fantastic. It felt like a pivotal moment, simultaneously it was like the characters were at the mercy of a force much greater than them. The camera angles helped achieve this by making the men look small. It was interesting that it was done in a church as the whole idea of the group being frightened and amazed by the magic was to give the sensation that they were having an almost religious experience. The feeling of being in the presence of something entirely other.
The introduction of the prophecies and the Raven King was very interesting. The writers achieved the goal of making him seem like a threat to even the powerful Mr Norrell. Not all of the characters in this historical fantasy are the stereotypical clean-cut Victorian era aristocrat. Some of these characters are rough anti-hero types which is really good to see. The character of Mr Norrell went on quite a journey in just the first episode. When we meet him in the beginning he seems to be the powerful one in the presence of the bumbling wannabe magicians. He appears to be on another plane of thought. By the end of this episode we were shown that he is actually just a man and is just as weak as the magicians at the beginning in the presence of certain people.