'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' - TV Review (first 2 episodes)

I approached Susanna Clarke's 2004 book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with some trepidation: the thing is 700 pages long and, while many people read and loved it, many others started but could not finish. I had trouble at times with the slow pace, but it's a beautifully realized world and I was sorely disappointed to leave it at the end - even after 700 pages. A couple weeks ago I discovered that the BBC did a seven hour TV mini-series of the book in July of 2015. The trailers looked promising, and I finally had the time to watch the first couple episodes.

The series starts in England in 1806. Magic hasn't been practised in the country for 300 years, but now the bookish and unfriendly Mr. Norrell appears, and he is in fact a magician. Another man, a street magician - who has very little real magic, but does seem to have some ability to prophesy - predicts that another magician will appear. That other is the somewhat dissolute but rather charming Jonathan Strange who has no book knowledge whatsoever, but on reading a couple lines and just guessing ... he can do magic that equals Norrell's. Norrell is both taken aback and excited. There's lots more to the plot: the war with France, a very poor deal Mr. Norrell has made with a very powerful fairy (we're not talking Tinker Bell here), and much more, but that's the basics.

Eddie Marsan is perfectly cast as the unlikeable Mr. Norrell, and Bertie Carvel passes beyond perfection into some new realm of casting - just amazing. And I could find no fault with anything else about the series either: this is, bar none, the best book-to-screen translation I've ever seen in my life. With seven hours of run-time, they can cover pretty much the entire book: and so far it's breath-takingly good.

The best scene in the first two hours is Jonathan being called in to rescue a military ship that's run aground off the British shore. He doesn't know what the hell he's doing, he just ... makes it up. And it involves horses made of sand. And while the special effects were wonderful, they weren't what impressed me most: it was Strange's lack of realization of the magnitude of what he'd done (because it was so easy for him) and his complete lack of interest in discussing it: he just goes in search of breakfast. The beauty of this is in the accuracy of the portrayal of Clarke's character: again, perfect.

I'm dying to see the rest. (Follow-up review.)