Published on May 26th, 2015 | by Michael0
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode Two – How is Lady Pole?
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell episode two opens in Brest, France. A soldier spots a cadre of English ships sailing towards the mainland with purpose. ‘That’s more ships than the English have!’ cries one solider. ‘That’s more ships than there are on Earth!’. It’s the middle of the Peninsula War, even in the alternative world of Strange & Norrell and a mighty English armada is heading straight for France. Thus are the stakes suitably raised in the opening moments of this episode.
It transpires that the ships are merely a distraction, ghost ships raised by Mr Norrell in order to tie up French military assets on a wild goose chase. Mr Norrell himself is still safely ensconced back in Blighty, of course. He’s out of his element and in Sir Walter Pole’s good books though, after his part in resurrecting the now Lady Pole. Indeed, Norrell is the toast of London and all manner of requests are made of him. After his heroics with Lady Pole, one man has the notion that a returned Lord Nelson might do England the world of good. Or perhaps William Pitt? Norrell cannot help though – either because both of those fellows have been dead a good while, or because he fears entering into more bargains with the creepy Gentleman (Marc Warren).
Poor Mr Norrell has a lot of worries on his mind this week. Troubled by his devil’s pact with the Gentleman, he brings the fairy forth and begins to regret his haste in using his assistance to save Lady Pole. It appears that when the Gentleman laid claim to ‘half her life’, he didn’t mean the second half, as Norrell assumed. In addition, Parliament would like to send a magician to the Peninsula to wreak more havoc upon Napoleon, and Norrell is not a good traveller (and the thought of leaving his books horrifies him). And then there are the new practitioners of magic popping up all over the place. Fortunately, he has Drawlight and Lascelles to slap them down for him. ‘He was no more a magician than I am the Duchess of Devonshire!’, announces Drawlight in that flamboyant manner of his.
There is another magician worthy of Norrell’s attention, however. Having been told by ‘a man under a hedge’ to pursue magic in last week’s episode, Jonathan Strange has done just that, with uncharacteristic vigour. For his first trick, he has attempted to contact a long dead female magician by creating a dreamscape from within her old home. Unfortunately for Strange, he has just summoned her when John Segundus, formerly of the Learned York Magicians, blunders in. ‘You were in my dream!’ exclaims an astonished Segundus.
‘The dream, Sir, was mine. I lay down here on purpose to dream it!’ comes the annoyed reply. Neither of the men picks up how extraordinary it is that an apparently non-magic man such as Segundus could have found his way in to Strange’s dream, but that might be a tale for another time. In the event, Segundus does prove himself useful to Strange, after all he has just become the first man (along with his accomplice, the ever willing Mr Honeyfoot) to make the acquaintance of both title characters.
So it is that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell should meet, with Norrell’s three lackeys Childermass, Drawlight and Lascelles in tow, of course. Childermass is content to brood in the corner, in the best Byronic tradition, but the other two fuss over Strange, alternatively patronising him and showing off, waiting for their master to get the measure of him. Strange in turn demonstrates his own particular brand of magic for the assembled company. His party trick of choice is to make a pamphlet swap places with its mirror reflection (though he confesses he knows neither how he did it nor how to get it back). Despite this inherent sloppiness, Mr Norrell is delighted as this display. It is here that Eddie Marsan really shines in the role. Having required to be sullen and peevish throughout, he really sells Mr Norrell’s genuine delight at seeing another’s magic. It’s also a great moment for the character because for all his haughty airs and his treatment of the York ‘magicians’, Norrell really does appreciate genuine magic when he sees it. Bertie Carvel also sells the scene beautifully and the chemistry between the two leads is excellent. In both their words and behaviour, we see the two magicians here for what they are: Norrell, the scholar and bookworm, Stranger the improviser, the creature of instinct. It’s like Salieri and Beethoven, Iceman and Maverick, XTC and Adam Ant.
Suddenly, Lascelles and Drawlight are on the outside looking (and listening) in. Mr Norrell takes it upon himself to take Strange on and his protégé and devises a ten year (!) learning programme. It’s not all work though. ‘What’s that strange sound’? asks Drawlight. ‘I think it is Mr Norrell laughing’ comes the reply. Alas, this status quo will not remain long. First, Strange is able to locate some ships for the navy, a task of which Mr Norrell thought him incapable. Then, in stark contrast to Mr Norrell’s beacon magic, Strange is able to raise a band of horses from the sand in order to rescue a stricken ship, to the delight of the on-looking crowd. Typically, Strange has no idea how he managed it.
Furthermore, Jonathan Strange is all too happy to be the army’s official magician on the peninsula. What’s worse, he requisitions forty of Mr Norrell’s books to assist him in the endeavour. And there are other avenues of potential discord between the two. Strange and Arabella visit Lord Pole at his home, and Strange and Pole leave Arabella to her own devices but not before Lord Pole offers her some refreshments. Would she perhaps like some seed cake?
Strange: “Arabella does not care for seed cake. It is a thing that she particularly dislikes.”
Arabella: “Arabella is not a three-year-old, Jonathan.”
Ha! If Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan are not careful, Charlotte Riley is going to steal this programme right from under their noses, especially if she is gifted lines like that every week. Anyway, once left alone, Arabella chances upon Lady Pole, very much alive but somewhat less than well. She informs Arabella that Mr Norrell is no friend of hers, and that death would be preferable to her current state. Oddly, she cannot elucidate further. Any attempts to tell Arabella about her strange predicament – that she spends her nights dancing in gloomy balls with the Gentleman and Stephen Black, the butler – descend into rambling stories about England’s magical heritage and suchlike. Yes, it would appear that the Gentleman is taking his ‘half’ of Lady Pole’s life while she sleeps, rather than in her later years, as Mr Norrell had assumed.
A lady of Arabella’s gumption and intelligence is hardly like to let this lie. Indeed, at auction, she intends to rob Mr Norrell of the magical books that once belonged to the late Lord Roxburghe. Mr Norrell, caught off guard by the sudden appearance of the Gentleman at Arabella’s side, nearly lets her do it, too, before finally remembering himself and outbidding her. Nevertheless, Arabella has shown herself to be less than enamoured with her husband’s new mentor. With Jonathan Strange away to war, will she instigate a conflict of her own for the sake of Lady Pole. And what of Stephen Black, now that he too has come under the thrall of the Gentleman, for the crime of answering a bell? Stay tuned to find out.