Published on June 23rd, 2015 | by Michael0
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – The Black Tower
This week’s episode, ‘The Black Tower’, is heavy on the Strange, comparatively light on the Norrell. After last week’s Eureka moment concerning fairies and madness, Jonathan Strange has taken himself away to Venice, hoping that the gondolas and copious amounts of drugs can inspire a bout of beneficial lunacy. While there he meets another pair of tourists, the Greysteels. The father, James (Clive Mantel) has travelled to Italy to rescue his daughter, Flora (Lucinda Dryzek) who had caused a scandal by eloping with the notorious Lord Byron. The Romantic poet is no longer on the scene but Flora is clearly taken with this other young man who is (soon to be) mad, bad and dangerous to know. The Greysteels also know a woman living in the city, a crazy cat lady who finally provides the key to Strange’s own madness. As a reward for her help, Strange transforms the crazy cat lady into a crazy lady cat, which is nice of him, I suppose.
As a result of his degraded mental state, Strange can now see and hear The Gentleman once he has been summoned. As ever Marc Warren brings a very creepy air to his performance but for once The Gentleman is not the master of the situation. Even as addled as he is, Strange spots The Gentleman’s slip-up when he inadvertently admits to his part in Lady Pole’s restoration (and in turn reveals his past dealings with Mr. Norrell). The Gentleman offers Strange riches, princesses, kingdoms, but all Strange wants is his wife. The Gentleman correctly assures the magician that he can’t bring Arabella back to life, instead Strange demands the token that The Gentleman took from Lady Pole – her little finger – proof of Mr Norrell’s deceptions. Bertie Carvel really brings it once again as Strange. Having been on an even keel for the first four episodes, he has really been put through his paces in episodes Five and Six, displaying Strange’s horror in the midst of war, his grief at Arabella’s death and finally his (deliberate) descent into madness, admittedly a form of madness that leaves you lucid and with moral compass in tact.
Back in Blighty, cold fish Mr Norrell is finally showing some humanity. His reaction to seeing that Strange’s book is a masterpiece, and his certainty that he has to destroy it anyway, is priceless – a single tear rolling down the cheek. It’s not long before he’s back on form though with a bit of hocus pocus removing every single copy of the book in the entire country. Not content with destroying his former pupil’s work, Mr Norrell is determined is keep tabs on his actions abroad. At Childermass’ suggestion, Mr Norrell and Lascelles spring Drawlight from jail in order that he tail Strange and report back. Having been side-lined for a few episodes, bar a wordless cameo last week, it’s great to see Vincent Franklin back in action as Drawlight, taking his obsequious manner with him to Venice. To be fair to the man, Drawlight shows real talent as a spy, tracking down Strange in double quick time. He is less skilled at ingratiating himself with the Greysteels though, as a memorable exchange with James attests:
Drawlight: “What have you heard? Is it true that he has turned people into glass and thrown stones at them. And m’lady, are you his special friend? What is he about in there?”
Greysteel: “Do you wish to be shot?”
Greysteel: “Then behave differently.”
Vincent Franklin has long been one of my favourite comic actors (if such a term is not doing him a disservice) after his turns in The Office and 2012 and his role as ‘Tory Malcolm Tucker’ Stewart Pearson in the still peerless The Thick of It. It’s great to see him excel here in another sort of role, albeit still a funny one.
One of the very few disappointments with the series so far has been the development of Stephen Black (who seems to be going by that name less and less as the weeks wear on). This is no judgement on Ariyon Bakare but on the script which makes Black seem like a slightly weary accomplice to The Gentleman rather than one of his victims. Contrast Stephen’s behaviour so far with that of Lady Pole, who has done everything in her power to try and protect her friends. Two things happen this week that improve Stephen’s story no end – he grows a pair and he teams up with Vinculus, the underused Paul Kaye. Vinculus like The Gentleman is keen to stress Stephen’s destiny to be King. He knows whereof he speaks, as he reveals himself to be tattooed with the book of the Raven King (his father having eaten the book when embroiled in a drinking contest in my home town of Sheffield). Vinculus has a date with a tree, he tells Stephen. Unfortunately for poor Vinculus, he is strung up on said tree by The Gentleman for pissing him off. Vinculus had told The Gentleman he was very hard to kill so hopefully Paul Kaye will grace us with his presence once more next week.
Back in Venice by way of the other world, Jonathan Strange has been imprisoned in a black tower, a darkness that travels with him and from which he cannot escape. He had been trapped there by The Gentleman, leaving the fairy very weak. Again, a crack appears in The Gentleman’s armour, one which the magicians might exploit. Strange isn’t going down with a fight. He entraps Drawlight in the darkness and sets an unkindness of ravens upon him (that’s the correct collective noun. Look it up). He tells Drawlight to take messages back to England, including telling Mr Norrell that he is coming for him. Strange also makes it clear to Drawlight that he would like to teach all the magicians of England, including, it should be noted, any young women who wish to learn. Perhaps together, Strange, Mr Norrell, Childermass, Segundus, Mr Honeyfoot and the rest can stop The Gentleman once and for all. Tune in next week to see how it all shakes down!