Published on June 17th, 2015 | by Michael0
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode 5 – ‘Arabella’
‘Could a magician kill a man with magic?’
‘I suppose a magician might, but a gentleman never could’
Jonathan Strange is made to regret those words in the thrilling opening sequence to episode five of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, ‘Arabella’. The viewer is pitched straight in to the battle at Waterloo with Bony’s army descending on the beleaguered British. As we’ve seen so far, Strange’s magic chiefly addresses logistical concerns, in this instance bring a storm to quench a fire. That’s not proving enough though, because the French are moments away from overwhelming the British barricades. Some thorns get the first few Frenchmen off their backs, but it’s not long before the rest are on top of them. After seeing a particularly brutal axe wielding soldier kill some of his friends, Strange raises a giant first from the mud to smite the poor bugger. Strange’s conjuring now has a body count.
Strange, and Wellington, have triumphed over Napoleon. But Strange has far more dangerous enemies than the Ogre, and we the viewers know the direction of The Gentleman’s next attack, after the creepy final sequence last week. A neighbour of the Stranges tells Jonathan a tale that he’s seen Arabella out wandering the hills in a snow storm, but is assured he must be mistaken. For one, the woman the neighbour describes in wearing black. ‘Arabella never wears black. I hate to see her in it’ tells Jonathan, apparently forgetting entirely the sort of relationship he has with his wife.
Of course we know that the woman on the hills is the moss oak double The Gentleman created, part of a diabolical scheme to capture Arabella’s soul. With the help of Stephen Black, he spirits the real Arabella away and replaces her with the double, who promptly dies, but not before Jonathan swears his love for her, renouncing ‘all other wives’. Charlotte Riley excels in the role of the oak moss double, deranged and wild-eyed as she staggers in from the cold. Strange has no idea what he has done, of course. Instead he spends his time futilely trying to resurrect a ‘woman’ who had only lived for a few short hours. Try as he might, he cannot get aid from the fairies as Mr Norrell could. He actually does manager to summon The Gentleman but as he can neither see nor hear him, it does him no good. Also doing him no good is his old master Mr Norrell, who refuses to answer the several letters Strange sends requesting help.
This is because Mr Norrell has the odious Lascelles poisoning his ear. John Hefferan, continuing his good work from Ripper Street, has succeeded in creating an utterly unlikable creep in Lascelles, a man who manages to be toadying to Mr Norrell yet contemptuous to Childermass (Enzo Cilenti), a man his better in every respect bar rank. ‘Could we talk without the servants?’ he asks more than once. Childermass though is acting like every good Yorkshireman should, saying little but hearing everything. He tails Strange, utilising both the magic he has learnt as Mr Norrell’s servant and the tricks he picked up as a pickpocket. Strange (naturally) wants Childermass to join him, not as a servant, but as a pupil and assistant (which in reality seems little different). It seems to me that Strange, despite his admiration for Childermass, is no closer to getting the measure of the man than Mr Norrell or Lascelles are. Childermass refuses to throw in his lot with Strange – ‘Mr Norrell and I are not done with each other yet’. He does promise though that if Strange should fall, he would take up his mantel and present the opposite opinion on English magic to Mr Norrell. However, if Mr Norrell should fall, he’d do the same for him. Childermass may not have strong convictions regarding magic, but he does ideas about a consensus being formed on the subject.
Speaking of good Yorkshiremen, John Segundus and Mr Honeyfoot are once again proving to be far more than the clowns we may have thought they were initially. After Segundus stared down Childermass last week, it is Mr Honeyfoot’s (Brian Pettifer) turn to shine. His mother used to tell him stories of monsters and magical creatures as a child; afterwards he made a hobby of collecting such tales. He alone, then, recognises that Lady Pole’s tales might not just be the babbling nonsense they appear. Together with Segundus he quickly finds a way to wheedle the truth, or at least part of it, from the poor young woman, by cross referencing her tales with his recorded versions. All of this happens too late to save the unfortunate Arabella but Lady Pole does at least know what has happened to her friend – should Segundus and Honeyfoot crack the code, they would be able relay the information to Jonathan Strange.
Speaking of, the bereaved ‘widower’ is finally persuaded from attempting to resurrect Arabella, not because of Mr Norrell’s ambivalence but by an emotional intervention from her brother, Henry (Robert Hands). Henry is of a course a man of the cloth, but thankfully the programme doesn’t lean on that a reason not to try and bring Arabella back, Henry merely tells Strange that the corpse upstairs is not Arabella. Henry is more right than he knows!
Poor Strange is assailed on all sides this week, as Mr Norrell and Lascelles attempt to supress his book. Mr Norrell is handed unexpected ammunition in his war against Strange, when he is told that Johannites (named for John Uskglass, the Raven King) have been smashing machinery up in the North, mirroring the real life Luddites. As Strange’s book advocates the Raven King quite strongly, this is all Mr Norrell needs to finally have the book banned. It would seem that the little seen Vinculus is behind the Johannite movement, so hopefully he’ll be with us again before long.
Strange takes the news of his book badly and uses his mirror trick to invade Mr Norrell’s study. Bertie Carvel, a revelation in Babylon last year, has gone from strength to strength on this show, with ‘Arabella’ being his finest hour yet as Strange goes to grief stricken, the furious, to manic. Strange’s latest adventure lands him in jail, although unlike the stricken Drawlight (seen in a neighbouring cell), Strange still has friends. Chiefly he has army buddy Grant (Jamie Parker), who offers to get him out using Strange’s status as a war hero. Instead, Strange fixates on why King George could see a fairy and Strange couldn’t – he soon hits upon the answer, though like The Gentleman last week, he gives the credit to Grant – ‘you’re on to something there!’, despite Grant saying nothing of the sort. Grant gets him released anyway, but as the jail door swings open, Strange disappears into a puddle, reckoning it works like a mirror.
Thus, Strange is free to rescue his wife, restoring English magic and, God willing, give Lascelles a swift kick in the bollocks. Tune in next week to see if any of this comes to pass!