Thursday, 4 June 2015 - Reviewed by
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Episode Three Written by Peter Harness Directed by Toby Haynes First broadcast 31st May 2015, BBC OneThe 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?