'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell'
(Eddie Marsan, Bertie Carvel, Charlotte Riley, Paul Kaye, Marc Warren, et al / 2-DVD / NR / 2015 / BBC America)
Overview: Based on Susanna Clarke's award-winning novel, 'Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell' reveals mysterious secrets and scandalous thrills between the two men destined to be England's greatest magicians. Spend some time with this diabolical duo in the fantasy story adored by fans and critics alike.
DVD Verdict: #1: The Book - The aforementioned book won the Hugo and was nominated for the Nebula, which is why I decided to read it. It is an awesome if extremely challenging read. It took me several passes before I was able to get into the meandering story and actually finish it. But, hey, it took the author a decade to write! Who am I to complain? One of the reasons the book is so challenging, if not off-putting, is its style. It is written in the venerable style of the great 19th century British authors, so if you hated reading Jane Austin in high school, you probably won't like this book, and you may not like the show.
For many reasons, I didn't expect the television show to be an easy, far less effortless, thing to watch. And it isn't. I can't quite imagine what it would be like to come into it without the benefit of having read the book. But I'm sure many have. Like the book, I think you need to be in a certain "suspend disbelief and be patient" mindset.
On the other hand, in the last decade since it was published, we've all gotten use to alternative histories, haven't we, with "Merlin" and "Atlantis" and "Dracula" - the list goes on and on. The Brits do these exceedingly well. From that early and rather silly "Robin Hood" up to the present with "The Musketeers" (the latter sharing an actor with this show) these series are nothing but improving. The genre is getting perfected. We've grown accustomed to the idea of alternative histories.
And a retelling of the Napoleonic wars is basically what the story is about. It is an alternative history about a time that (to be honest) I'm not very interested in. But I am interested in fiction about magic - from Butcher's Dresden books to the Neal Stephenson mystical masterpieces, and so this is right up my alley. I like the show, as it steadily gears up to do what the books do so brilliantly - which is allow you to get lost in this strange universe where nothing is as you expect it or remember it, and where these two very odd (and very different) men partake in a very strange dance.
I'm impressed, actually, that someone even tried to put the book to film. One might wonder if a story about friendship and insanity would translate well, but with the wonderful actors and the fantastic writing, I am looking forward to see how this all shakes out in future seasons - should there even be any, of course.
#2: The TV Series - After watching the first episode and wondering if the series was a little bit dry and a shade too dull for me, I had a feeling that it might just be taking it's time and laying a good foundation for what was to come, and I am so glad I stayed with it, because in episode two, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell starts to reveal just how deep and interesting the story is to become. By the end of the third episode I was beside myself with excitement to see the next one - so deeply drawn into it's weirdly wonderful atmosphere!
Ergo, the actors here are first class, and all of them really know how to 'sell' a scene! I don't think this amazing story could have come to life quite so well and in such completeness if it weren't for the commitment of these incredible actors to the material. I am amazed that TV can still knock my socks off once in a while! Well done to all involved, I can't wait to get the set! I have SO much love for this show. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
- The Making of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
- Deleted scenes
- Two Making of shorts – showing how the special effects were added
- Stills Picture Gallery
- Behind the Scenes Picture Gallery