Published on July 2nd, 2015 | by Vyctoria Hart0
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – DVD Review
Over the last seven weeks we’ve been reviewing the television adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s acclaimed novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Now you have the chance to own it for yourself on DVD.
If you haven’t been following Michael’s reviews Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell tells the story of the return of magic in the Age of Reason. Set in 1806, Britain is at war with Napoleon and practical magic has long since vanished from the land, being relegated to a scholarly hobby amongst historians. It is at this time that two practical magicians emerge – the reclusive, fussy Mr Gilbert Norrell, who hordes books and hesitates to perform magic in public; and the daring, impulsive Jonathan Strange, who is makes up for a lack of knowledge with colossal natural talent. Mr Norrell is the first to demonstrate his magical talents by raising the beautiful wife of a cabinet minister from the dead and aiding in war effort by conjuring an armada from the rain. These displays of power lead to Strange becoming his apprentice. However the two soon find themselves at odds thanks to their opposing personalities; as well as the horrors of war, politics, ancient magic and an interfering fairy. A lavish production ideal for lovers of costume drama, fairytales and all kinds of special effects, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell stars Bertie Carvel (Coalition, Babylon) as Jonathan Strange and Eddie Marsden (Sherlock Holmes, Southcliffe) as Mr Norrell with a hugely talented supporting cast including Marc Warren, Paul Kaye, Charlotte Riley Alice Englert, Enzo Cilenti and Ariyon Bakare.
This adaptation was highly anticipated due to the popularity of the book and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was one of the best programmes I’ve seen from the BBC in the last couple of years. Though I shouldn’t really have been surprising since the director Toby Haynes was also responsible for “The Reichenbach Fall” episode of Sherlock. The production team have clearly put as much effort into ensuring the historical accuracy of every non-magical element of the show as they put into the fantasmagorical set pieces. Some science fiction and fantasy programmes have a tenancy to let accuracy fall by the way side when it comes to historical settings which can be quite jarring. I don’t care that dragons aren’t real, King Arthur still shouldn’t be eating a tomato. Fortunately Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell does not suffer from this issue, with everything from the winding streets of York to the battle formations at Waterloo receiving the same attention to detail. Amongst the special features on the DVD are two pieces called “Making of Shots” which show various special effects elements from the first two episodes and then the digital special effect processes used to create them. These include the motion capture process for bring the statues of York Cathedral to life and the complex procedure needed to turn sand in the gigantic galloping horses.
Some of the most interesting shots are the ones needed to return modern day streets to their historical glory, as a digital artist it was fascinating to see how much and how little work the various locations needed. There is also an excellent “Making of” featurette with interviews with the cast and crew about the challenges of bringing the book to the small screen. Since the original novel is dialogue heavy and incredibly detailed with many footnotes, I was curious to hear how to screenwriting process differed from other book adaptations. Indeed the “Deleted Scenes” segment of the special features shows where they had originally risked over explaining some of the storyline. The screenwriter, Peter Harness, had previously worked on adapting the Wallender series of Swedish crime novels and it was interesting to hear how he approached a book from such a different genre. The development of the special effects and magical elements of the programme was the most compelling part of the featurette for me. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell involves so many magical and other worldly elements that depend heavily on the readers imagination, as such there is always the risk of alienating your viewers by deviating from their own mental image of the characters. My colleague Michael here at Need to Consume mentioned in one of his reviews that he didn’t expect the fairy known as The Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair to start off quite as threateningly as he did in episode one. On the other hand I found him to be as sinister as I had always imagined, but I was surprised to find that he didn’t look like David Bowie in the movie Labyrinth. The revelation about the actual design inspiration for that character was one of the most startling elements of the special features for me. I won’t spoil it for you though. Meanwhile the blooper reel was a little bit disappointing, although it is at testament to the old theatrical adage about never working with animals.
I personally will be getting a copy of this for myself as I’m looking forward to rewatching the whole series this winter. I am sure that it will be even better when seen in front of a roar fire with some mulled wine, rather than being watched during a heatwave.