Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode Seven - Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellBookmark and Share

Monday, 29 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (ep 1) (Credit: BBC)Written by Peter Harness Directed by Toby Haynes First transmitted 28th June 2015, BBC One
All good things must come to an end, and the finale of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the most spectacular episode yet. So much happens, with so much nuance crammed in, and so much startling imagery. The ensemble cast, all so good in previous instalments all crank it up a notch here. This is a satisfying end to a big story.

It opens ominously. The mirrors of England have all been smashed by Strange's trick with the ravens, Magic is in disgrace, its reputation in ruins, shouted down by the whole of government. Strange is still in his black tower, Norrell has taken his leave back to Yorkshire, and the Gentleman is still continuing his lengthy, cruel dance.

In fact, reputation turns out to be a major theme, it's hinted at in previous episodes, but really comes to the fore here. The disgraced Drawlight, his clothes in tatters, meets with Lascelles - who really has turned out to be a nasty piece of work. Drawlight has been reduced to a tragic figure, determined to deliver Strange's messages (and Lady Pole's missing digit). Lascelles refuses to let him near Norrell, and kills his former associate to preserve Norrell's reputation, and therefore his own.

Lascelles then visits Norrell, where Childermass quickly cuts through the bluster to the truth. Lascelles pulls a knife on Childermass and cuts his face (Norrell is too busy attempting to erect a magical barricade to notice), but Childermass takes the opportunity to steal back what Lascelles has taken. The two men neatly spell out that this version of England truly has its own North-South divide, Lascelles sees himself as a 'gentleman', and Childermass as 'from the gutters of Yorkshire'. Childermass, a man who's had a belly full over the last six episodes, calmly reminds Lascelles that he is in the North, where the Raven King lives on in hearts and minds, witheringly resigns from Norrell's service, and leaves like a boss.

This leads straight to the confrontation between the increasingly raddled Strange and scared Norrell, as Jonathan appears in Norrell's library. The two have shared little screen time over the last couple of episodes, but they finally lock horns here. It all ends with bathos, as Norrell has little recourse to Jonathan's onslaught but to make it rain. 

But the dying Strange doesn't want to kill Norrell, he wants his help. Norrell is still in denial about his bargain with the Gentleman, but ruefully says that didn't want Strange to fall into his mistake. When Strange decides to attempt to summon the Raven King, he and Norrell finally truly work together. Norrell even manages a compliment about Strange's book -  "The most beautiful book of magic I have ever read". The relationship between the two men is complex, but teased out beautifully by Bertie Carvel and the more understated Eddie Marsan, whose quiet, nuanced performance is never better here.

This leads to the showstopping arrival of John Uskglass, the Raven King - who sweeps in spectacular fashion, finding the hanged Vinculus, reviving him from the dead, and rewriting the book Vinculus has tattooed on his person. He may look like the singer from a Black Metal band and say nothing whatsoever, but this guy has serious presence. It's a shame he has so little screen time, but there is a lot to cover here.

Back at Chez Segundus, things finally come to a head, as a freshly resigned Sir Walter Pole learns Stephen serves the Gentleman.

Well-meaning Segundus finally reunites Lady Pole with her finger and her sanity, pulling her out of the Gentleman's dance, and incurring the Faerie Host's fury. Lady Pole finally gets to give the Gentleman both barrels, she is quite done with being bartered by 'gentlemen'. The malevolent Faerie manages a classic quip of "Why are you firing Walnuts at me?" before we see him at his cruellest, taking a different sense away from both the Poles, Segundus, and Honeyfoot in a scene of magical body horror.

Strange and Norrell's efforts to put all of English Magic into the Raven King backfire (much to Norrell's chagrin, as his entire library goes in the process, (in a nice touch, Norrell's wig is blown off) and, as a result of a misunderstanding of naming convention, all of the power goes into Stephen - who is promptly shot dead by Lascelles. Lascelles gets his comeuppance at the hands of the furious Gentleman, who turns him to shattering glass before taking Stephen's body back to Lost Hope, where he is revived.

The magicians pursue them to Lost Hope, where Stephen, the 'nameless slave' finally rebels against his bonds of slavery and kills the Gentleman in a huge, powerful set piece, that destroys the Faerie King's domain, freeing Arabella, and flinging her through a mirror into the care of the Greysteels in Venice.

Norrell and Strange have been both master and pupil and bitter enemies up to now. It's a joy to see their excitable chemistry at work as they finally become a team of equals. It's a little too late though. Strange is still somehow trapped in the 'Black Tower', and Norrell, a man not known for his valour or moral character, is trapped with him. They enter a sort of limbo together as friends, as the Raven King restores order, unseen, observed by Childermass and Vinculus.

An elegaic scene follows in Venice between Arabella, and Strange's reflection in a well. Jonathan, looking sane and healthy, speaks to Arabella from whatever realm he is in, reaffirming his love for her - but telling her not to wait for him and become a widow. It's emotional stuff, delivered well by Carvel and Charlotte Riley. Strange's love for his wife has powered the series, and his appearance to say goodbye is touching.

The last word is left to Childermass, in a scene echoing the first scene of episode one, revisiting the same gathering of would-be magicians to symbolically hand over the torch, bringing in Vinculus as the set text to study.

This series has been one of the BBC's best efforts in some years. It never captured the public's imagination to any great degree ratings-wise, but as a prestigious production it may prove a watershed, the BBC doesn't traditionally go to town on anything that won't get a lot of commercial return back. At seven episodes and with no follow-up book to base a potential second series on, it stands alone - wonderfully adapted by Peter Harness and Toby Haynes. The cast is great, Carvel and Marsan are excellent leading men, but the show is often stolen by Enzo Cilenti's brooding, charismatic Childermass, and Marc Warren's malevolent Gentleman. It looks fantastic, and I'm running out of superlatives. I'll just sign off with this - it's been magic.




Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode Six - The Black TowerBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (ep 2) (Credit: BBC) Written by Peter Harness Directed by Toby Haynes First Transmitted 21st June 2015, BBC One
The Penultimate episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell finds pieces aligning for the endgame. 

In the background, we finally learn the true nature of Vinculus, and Stephen shows signs of beginning to wriggle free from the Gentleman’s thrall, as Vinculus reveals that his skin also has significance, and the two men share a moment. It doesn’t end well for Vinculus, naturally, but as he was as much book as man, can you really kill an idea?

In the foreground, Strange and Norrell are still at odds, even with Strange currently on the run. Norrell is appreciative of the quality of Strange’s book, but is making every copy of it disappear, and sending the disgraced Drawlight to spy on Strange, under threat of magical menaces.

Norrell’s involvement in this episode is mostly limited to hanging around in the background, plotting against Strange. And where is Strange?

He’s in Venice, trying to drive himself mad enough to summon a Faerie, in the mistaken belief that he can revive Arabella - who he still believes dead. Increasingly unkempt and raddled, he falls in with the Greysteels, suspicious Father James (Clive Mantle), and starry-eyed daughter Flora (Lucinda Dryzek). The latter is a bit too taken with Strange for her Father’s liking, even if he is tunnel-visioned on reviving Arabella.

Strange eventually turns a crazy cat lady into a cat herself in return for the hallucinogenic mouse that allows him to finally tip over the edge enough to see a Faerie. He really picks his Faerie as well, summoning the Gentleman, who’s somewhat aghast that Strange can finally see him. The tension between the two in this episode is electric, with an unwitting Strange first asking the Gentleman for the bargain of the return of his wife, before eventually coming to the realisation that the Gentleman - and by extension, Norrell is responsible for his loss, as Strange finds his way into the enchanted ballroom of Lost Hope, and finds the enchanted Arabella. The Gentleman is caught on the back foot for the first time by Strange’s power, and his fury.

A furious magic battle ensues between the two, with Strange only just losing, as the Gentleman imprisons him in a ‘black tower’ of darkness. The increasingly pathetic Drawlight is drawn in, and sent back out with tale between legs by Strange with a promise to Norrell. He is coming.

Toby Haynes outdoes himself visually again, with the scenes in Venice and the darkness of the sequences in the Black Tower and Lost Hope, as well as Vinculus's demise all standing out. The episode ends with hordes of ravens smashing through Norrell’s mirror, the latest in a long line of spectacular images. The scripts are superb. The central performances, from the understated Eddie Marsan, to the increasingly maniacal Bertie Carvel, and the quiet malevolence of Marc Warren's Gentleman are quite inspired. Within a week this series will be no more. We may not see its like from the BBC again.




Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode Five - ArabellaBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 17 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Credit: BBC)Directed by Toby Haynes First Transmitted 14th June 2015, BBC One
Things continue to go from bad to worse for our Magicians in episode five of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, as the Gentleman’s scheming continues.
 
Opening with a bravura bit of direction by Toby Haynes, we’re plunged straight into the battle of Waterloo. Haynes’ camera swoops in from high above and dive-bombs right to the thick of the action, where Jonathan Strange is back on the front-line – doing spectacular things, surrounded by explosions, mud, and weather of his own making. Wow, frankly.
 
We see this in flashback, cutting back to Blighty, where Strange is recovering from his time at war, and winding down with Arabella. Finally it seems, they’re free to move on together, but their domestic idyll proves short-lived. Arabella is summoned from their bed at night, where she accompanies Stephen in a Faerie carriage, under the impression she is to visit a distressed Lady Pole. 
 
Needless to say, it’s a trap, and part of the terrible bargain the Gentleman is trapping an unwitting Strange into, as she finds herself in the eerie ballroom from Lady Pole’s visions. Meanwhile, her facsimile, all bark and gleaming sap, is found in a state of confusion and delivered back to Strange – who accepts her as his wife, therefore sealing the real Arabella’s fate. 
 
The poor replica doesn’t survive long, her unnatural life soon expires, leading to Jonathan’s failed attempts to revive her from the grave. The Gentleman and Stephen observe unseen, with the former trying to persuade his flunky to flick Strange’s head – like a mean kid pulling the wings off a fly. By the end of the episode, a grief-stricken Strange has ended up behind bars for attacking Norrell, and escaped through the Kings Roads to destinations unknown. Bertie Carvel’s performance in this episode is nothing short of brilliant,  conveying variously fear, trauma, exhaustion, grief, and fury towards Norrell – who refuses to help him.
 
Speaking of Norrell, he’s having another fallow week, not much to report apart from his continued stick-up-posterior. Childermass has much more to do, brooding and trying to pick a side to choose – basically he’s prepared to nail his allegiance to whoever loses the passive-aggressive battle between Strange and Norrell. What a guy.
 
Meanwhile, Lascelles continues to be Norrell's vicious acolyte, whilst Drawlight is still, as we see, behind bars. Vinculus pops up again to sow intrigue, and Mr Honeyfoot - probably the slightest character so far, finds sense in the 'ramblings' of Lady Pole, and is decoding the meaning.
 
As the series begins to draw to a close, all these disparate threads are drawing together. However, this is Jonathan's episode, and rightly, his cliffhanger. We've seen what he is capable of in battle, what might such a magician do in anger?




Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Five And SixBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
5- Kill the Boy, 6 - Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015
The middle section of this season starts to make good on its promise; tantalising as to what fates and allegiances will concern the many characters involved.

Kill The Boy is a title with several references to actions and decision. Most obvious is Jon Snow's growth as the Lord Commander, telegraphed by Maester Aemon uttering the phrase. Tormund is now truly developing respect for Jon, after already having been through a period of investing trust in the youth, only to have it damaged by the eventual actions of one who meant his sworn loyalty to the Night's Watch. 

There is some build up to the Hardhome set piece, which was a major event in the books, albeit one that never took place in the present. Jon needs Stannis to lend him ships for this controversial and risky mission. Enough good-will means that his wish is granted.

A rather more ham-fisted development sees Olly continue to despise the Wildlings after he lost his village to their attack. I wish I could assert that he is anything more than a thinly characterised and blandly acted entity. The Jon Snow storyline overall though continues to be both compelling and enjoyable. Despite his resolution in executing Slynt, he still has much to prove to his Brothers in Black, as he is distinctly youthful, and happened to break a clutch of vows not that long ago.    

In the much warmer climes of Meereen, we quickly find out that Barristan Selmy is indeed deceased, following his one last show of fighting skill against the massive group of ne'er-do-wells.  

Grey Worm though has just managed to escape death's door and is nursed back to some semblance of health by Missandei. I find this work featuring new characters to be quite shallow and underwhelming. The acting is fine here, but there just is no real reason to care about two stereotypes' relations, when their past and deeper thoughts can only be guessed at.  

However, I do find an improvement in the one on one dynamic of the Khaleesi and Missandei. Dany struggles to make decisions with two major players now gone from her own 'Small Council' - one exiled by her and the other slain by the rebellious Sons of the Harpies. Thus she has need of another young woman's opionon. Some off-screen connection between the two actresses may be playing out in a positive way now on-screen.

But the most arresting scene of episode five concerning the Targaryen Queen is when she scares major nobles of Meereen, by feeding one of them alive to her entrapped dragons. It truly is a standout visual moment, as the hapless man is burnt and torn to bits. Perhaps this is due to her anger over losing Selmy, or just knowing she has some major trump cards in her fire-breathing 'kin'. Also powerful is the about-turn when the Queen allows Hizdahr zo Loraq to be her intended - not out of love, but political expediency. He certainly has endured a memorable few hours, but will he still have a chance to assert authority as he did before Meereen was overthrown?

Jorah may be exiled, but he proceeds ever closer back to the Queen - with Tyrion in tow. A wonderful bit of poetry plays out as both men muse on the rich history of the land they are passing through. Also striking is the surprise appearance of Drogon flying far above the river they are on; seemingly disinterested in these desperate men.And come the bridge between these two episodes, Mormont is suddenly exposed to his first real danger in a long time.

Firstly he makes the mistake of passing through old Valyria, and thus being exposed to attack by Stone Men. He manages to save Tyrion and himself, at the cost of getting infected with greyscale. The question now stands as to how long Jorah can keep this hidden.  Also will he will infect anyone else and to what extent?

Secondly in losing their boat, the two men are forced to eat humbly as they march on the long road towards the City of Pyramids. Tyrion reveals that Jorah's father, the-then-Commander of the Watch, was murdered some time ago by mutineers. Tyrion also establishes that he was driven to kill Tywin after the betrayal with Shae. Mormont's actual opinion of this crime is not touched upon - a fine example of less-is-more writing by Bryan Cogman.

Despite this plotline being strong, a slight hiccup occurs when the duo are overcome by stealthy pirates/slavers. One would expect them to be more careful than they end up being. Thankfully the Imp rescues the scene by using a bit of ingenious logic that he should be intact for verification. It also cleverly makes the glib remark about his 'dwarf manhood' in episode three now look a little careless. Jorah needs no such cunning. Season trailers have depicted Jorah in a fighting arena, so it would appear that he will have a chance to prove how able a warrior he is, despite his grizzled old exterior. 

Stannis, his court and army have plenty to do at the Wall in before marching away to deal with the Bolton 'obstacle' that blocks the capital, in episode five. It seems they will not return until a week or two's absence from our side. In the lead-up there is a well-performed scene where Samwell reverently greets the 'Baratheon King'.

He commandingly encourages Sam to carry on finding out as much as he can on dragon-glass and other methods of defence against the Others. Also Sam's relationship with Gilly has been portrayed very well once again throughout this latest season, the chemistry between John Bradley and Hannah Murrah being truly endearing.

These two instalments also perform a welcome character exploration of the twisted 'father and son' duo that is Roose and Ramsey. Just as with Tyrion and Jorah, the casting and acting is stellar, although they are instead meant as figures of contempt. Initially Ramsey seems to have command of those seated at the dinner table, and makes Sansa and Reek suffer equally by forcing a 'reconciliation'. But this is overshadowed by Roose's carefree revelation that he is expecting a child with Walda, clearly hoping for another male heir. The earlier excitement Ramsey demonstrated when holding his (nude) lover Myranda and reminding her he must marry someone of similar status is suddenly undercut. 

And there is more. Roose explains later to his 'now-legitimate' son the exact circumstances as to how he was conceived. Ramsey's mother was forced to see her lover killed, moments before being assaulted by Bolton; the end-product being this sadist of a man.  This theme of women being treated as objects is an uncomfortable one, but Thrones is based on such real life time zones as the War of the Roses where such barbarism was still common in real-life history. 

All the same, the final moments of Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken make that episode title seem a misnomer. Sansa, now-married, quickly suffers a terrible fate. She may have dreamed once long ago of giving her maidenhood to a virtuous man of good title. Such hopes have disappeared with the last of autumn though.The ultimate indignity of Ramsey taking her innocence in a derogatory and humiliating fashion is worsened, as eunuch Theon is ordered to watch the act throughout. Whether this is because Ramsey was not satisfied with 'Reek's apology at dinner or just another way of torturing his 'plaything' is left open to discussion. Of course the main thoughts evoked as the closing credits come on with sad music are those of sheer disbelief and horror. Sophie Turner warned viewers some time earlier of an upsetting scene, and she was not misleading anyone. 

This is all the indirect work of Littlefinger abandoning Sansa to the mercies of the Boltons. We only find out what is happening with this schemer in episode six, as King's Landing is given a rest for one week. Baelish does indeed meet with Cersei as expected. He quickly shows a new approach in giving away Sansa's location and 'her actions' in siding with the Boltons. Given Littlefinger's seemingly deep love for Catelyn this surprises, but how much he means it is anyone's guess. He does placate Cersei's dark thoughts of revenge on the 'last 'of the Starks, by promising Sansa's head on a spike. But could this be done by someone else first, given the impending battle at Winterfell?

In one of the few truly funny moments of late, we have fan-favourite Olenna Tyrell return to court intrigue, as she curses the stench of King's Landing on the road leading to the city. An enjoyable verbal clash soon ensues as she denounces the Queen Mother as a 'Tart', upon being referred to as the 'Tart-tongued Queen of Thorns'. But Cersei is playing her cards just right perhaps. 

Despite both Margaery and Olenna's calm when Loras is forced to answer questions in a small enquiry run by the High Sparrow, a sudden turn of events sees trouble loom. Olyvar, the man who helped run Baelish's brothels until recently, testifies against Loras and gives enough evidence to satisfy the religious order that a full trial is justified. The precise detail could only have been known by someone who lay with Loras, and as we know from earlier episodes this union has happened quite a few times. Margaery puts herself in a corner by indirectly conceding she was aware of these actions, and is arrested for trial as well. This is one of the strongest King's Landings moments all season. Tommen is confirmed further as a weak boy, letting Cersei orchestrate the whole thing from start to finish.  And at the risk of repeating myself, Jonathan Pryce is just magnetic, boosting whatever he can without seemingly trying too much.

There is some improvement in the Dorne sequences that come in episode six. However the Sand Snakes still fail to excite as they perhaps should. Jaime clumsily tries to 'rescue' daughter Myrcella from the Dornish capital. But viewers now know just how much she has fallen for Trystane Martell. The love shown between two attractive, seemingly normal people is rare for this show. Perhaps only Ned and Catelyn, or Robb and Talisa have truly virtuous relations. Just as the pointlessness of the mission becomes clear to Jaime, he and Bronn must try and survive a lethal attack by the Sand Snakes. The fight plays out well enough, if lacking in any real tension. Having Bronn receive a likely venomous wound is very effective though. 

The casting of Alexander Siddig as Prince Doran gets further validity in his fleeting appearance; being everything I imagined from the books. Hopefully he gets a scene lasting longer than a minute or two before long, as the potential for such a fine actor looks stronger than what he had to do in Atlantis.

Perhaps the real disappointment lies in the Braavos sections. Sometimes what works well on the page, i.e. a narrative related in rather loose chronology, can be hard to adapt for the small screen. We care about Arya thanks to Maisie Williams' screen presence, but her change of image and lifestyle is so solemn and slow, it almost seems like no-one carried out the editing work.Jaqen's influence over Arya is undeniable, as she proceeds to play her part in giving the gift of death. But the lack of audience investment in characters we meet fleetingly before their deaths take away a lot of the effect presumably intended.

'The Room of Faces' sequence is almost the exception to the rule, an eerie set piece with many hours of production work, which demands to be seen on the biggest and best TV sets one can find. There are other moments of interest, but still perhaps not quite for this medium. The sequence where Arya tells the truth and lies in equal measure, being hit moderately by Jaqen whenever a falsehood is uttered. The complex feelings over Sandor Clegane, who she undeniably bonded with, get some welcome attention. Other past events from long ago see acknowledgement as well. And Ned Stark's shadow hangs over the show yet again.

To some extent the further material with the Waif intrigues, as Arya has a potential glimpse at what she might become: a servant of the House and its Gods who may not entirely know their own identity any more and yet knows how to present any number of personas. The lack of connectedness to new events in the show is a definite problem though. Once Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant arrive, the better this storyline will be I feel.  

Lastly I will touch upon the likable heroic duo of Brienne and Podrick. They have very little to do, after a promsing start for them earlier on. Presently Brienne is keeping an eye out for developments at Winterfell, but as yet she has no confirmation of the need to take drastic action. 

As the final episodes are awaited by viewers worldwide, some of the anticipation will centre on how the 'true' Theon may help Sansa, or whether someone like Brienne or a Northener may respond to a lit candle in the broken tower. Also notable is the potential danger Cersei may face as earlier episodes established that cousin and sworn-Sparrow Lancel knew exactly what she intended against King Robert (and indeed other schemes). 

Overall this long-running show is doing respectably enough. Hopefully it finds another gear or two with the concluding four episodes.




Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode Four - All the Mirrors of the WorldBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (ep 4) (Credit: BBC) Written by Peter Harness Directed by Toby Haynes First Transmitted 7th June 2015, BBC One


Picking up immediately from last week's cliffhanger of Lady Pole's attempt on Norrell's life, this week's episode deals with the growing rift between Messrs Strange and Norrell - and the consequences of treating madness with magic.

Norrell is growing more and more paranoid by the day, his reputation is all to him, and he becomes increasingly at odds with Strange. Strange has become increasingly interested in the magic of the Raven King, and his discovery of the 'Kings Roads' - the surreal network of paths behind mirrors, whilst attempting to treat the madness of King George. Norrell is busy being immortalised in print by Mr Lascelles and establishing himself as the great reformer of English Magic. At the same time, Strange finds himself the subject of a hoax-cum-smear campaign orchestrated by Drawlight, who's been scamming money by post from people attempting to solicit him for freelance work. Drawlight is found via 

In fact, rifts are opening up everywhere. Drawlight ends up on the wrong side of everybody, even Lascelles, who threatens to kill him. Strange has become much more sure of himself, and he and Arabella fight about where his career is taking him. He ends up writing a damning review of Lascelles' book about Norrell, and severe ties with his former mentor by the end of the episode, and plans to move home to Shropshire and quit practical magic. Norrell makes a fairly insincere sounding attempt at reaching out to the younger magician, but the two part ways. Strange is more sanguine about the end of their association, but Norrell, with Lascelles hissing in his ear, now treats Strange as his enemy.

Visually and mood-wise the series continues to shine, with the stunning CGI of the Kings Roads a particular highlight. This is also the creepiest episode so far, filled with some startling imagery . The whole sequence surrounding Strange’s attempts to cure King George is memorably filled with dread,  the discordant notes struck repeatedly by the King at his harpsichord, his eerie appearance in the middle of the road before Stephen, who is almost compelled to run him through with a sword - and the fact that the King can clearly see things in his madness that others can’t.

Most chilling of all is the Gentleman wringing tears from a handkerchief and creating a facsimile of Arabella Strange from an old log – blinking, and covered in dew. On a quieter note, the scene of Childermass’s near-death experience is brief, but a stand-out. Did anyone else spot the Raven? Or, the Raven King’s more-than-passing resemblance to Childermass in that portrait later on? Coincidence? Possibly not. Time will tell.

Speaking of Childermass, he comes in for a rough ride of it this week, recovering from taking the bullet meant for Norrell, but with no thanks from his ungrateful master - who complains that he is recovering from a near-fatal wound when he could be serving Norrell. What is becoming apparent is that Childermass is very much his own man, and is starting to ask questions. He visits Segundus and Honeyfoot (now in the sanatorium business) looking for answers – still in the dark as to what exactly Norrell did to deserve the bullet he took for him, but they refuse to let him see Lady Pole, now in their care. There's surely a show-down in the offing when Childermass gets his answers.

The only slightly unsatisfactory thing about this episode is the slightly fudged bit of exposition at the end announcing that Jonathan Strange must go back to war. A bit of shorthand is necessary in TV storytelling every now and again, but it’s basically a scene of a man running in and saying “Napoleon is BACK!”, as if someone has noticed that there’s five minutes left to go until the next episode. It’s a minor quibble, it just feels slightly at odds with the leisurely pace of the rest of the series.

At any rate, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell continues to impress. The three remaining episodes are clearly building to something big, and it's almost a shame that it's ending so quickly. Sunday nights haven't been this much fun in a long time.




Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Episode Three - The Education of a MagicianBookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (ep 3) (Credit: BBC)Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Episode Three Written by Peter Harness Directed by Toby Haynes First broadcast 31st May 2015, BBC One
The BBC's lavish adaptation of Susanna Clarke's epic saga of magic and war continues with Jonathan Strange on the front line in Portugal, whilst in London the resurrected Lady Pole continues to unravel.

Unravel is the operative word here, she's taken to embroidering her nightmarish visions of the Gentleman's world, whilst Arabella tries to understand just what is happening, only to have her help and advice knocked back by the ailing Lady. Stephen, still in the Gentleman's thrall, is beginning to see the downside of the eyebrowed-one's patronage - this episode has the creepiest and most disturbing imagery yet, including the horror vision of Stephen's birth in slavery. Everyone the Gentleman touches, it seems, is not far from madness. 

The episode focuses on Strange's travails on the front line, initially mistrusted and dismissed by Lord Wellington (Ronan Vibert) and troops, eventually winning their trust and quite literally building a road - but at a cost - his valet takes a shell meant for Jonathan and he is forced to use the magic of the Raven King to revive dead troops for interrogation. By the end, Wellington's men are all raising their hats to him, but it's a harder, more pragmatic Jonathan that heads home to England.

These sequences are the most beautifully shot and cinematic of the series so far, almost recalling scenes from Wild West game Red Dead Redemption. Even the zombies come off well. Take a bow, Toby Haynes.

Norrell takes a back seat for much of this episode, but makes it count when he is on-screen. He's on-hand whenever anything generally untoward is happening - going through Arabella's letters to Strange, recommending that Lady Pole has no visitors to cover his back after filling her in on the lifetime of torment she is in for, sending Childermass to put the frighteners on Mr Segundus as he tries to establish his school for magicians. Mr Norrell, to be fair, does himself few favours this week. Even when Strange returns home, Norrell arrives almost immediately, but is more interested in getting his beloved books back - a fact that Strange ruefully acknowledges.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger, in a moment echoing Strange's valet's sacrifice - as Childermass throws himself in front of a bullet meant for Norrell, fired by Lady Pole. Whatever happens next week, it looks like it's all coming apart for Mr Norrell. As for Jonathan Strange, he's using the dark magic of the Raven King already, and his wife is in the sights of the Gentleman. Has he developed a taste for war?