Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Book vs. BBC

Intended for people who know the story, but not overly spoilery if you don’t.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell became one of my favourite books as I was reading it. By bookworm standards I am an exceptionally slow reader, and Jonathan Strange is exceptionally large. It took me quite a while to read it which turned it into a bit of a retreat into a dark, stormy, magical place. It just feels like something to read in the fall, when the air is crisp and it gets dark early. It reminds me of something Hermione would have read at Hogwarts regarding the history of magic in England, especially with all of the footnotes. Some span for pages.

Rather than try (and fail) to re-read the whole book this season, I decided to give the mini-series a try. I remember the trailers for it and I was quite pleased, given what I had imagined while reading the book. I had always imagined Jonathan to be more of a Tom Hiddleston but after watching the whole series I think Bertie Carvel was perfect.

Eddie Marsan’s Norrell almost hit home. He could have done with some more grump and misanthropy. 8.5/10

I didn’t really agree with the characterization of the faerie with thistle-down hair. I think he should have been more playful and mischievous but he was portrayed as very menacing and malicious.

I actually always pictured him with a bouffant and a mole, but perhaps that’s a little too French.

I was also confused by Childermass. I don’t remember him being so creepy in the book. I’m not sure it was necessary, but it worked so sure.

For the most part, I liked what they decided to keep and discard. Jonathan’s relationship with Flora Greysteel would have muddled the rest of the story and would have detracted from Jonathan and Arabella’s love story. By the way — Jonathan and Arabella are goals af. They just love each other so much omg. The only change that I didn’t quite like was that the BBC version had Jonathan save Arabella from Lost Hope but in the book she found her own way out. I’m a big fan of ladies who save themselves. I can see why they made the change, though, it ties the story together quite well.

As much as I loved seeing all the characters come to life, I think Lady Pole (Alice Englert) stole the whole show. She was sharp and clever, and mad and desperate.

Her refusal to stay married to the man she was sold to was an epic addition that I don’t remember happening in the book. She doesn’t let you forget that she was bargained to a man who, albeit was not particularly unkind, she did not love. It was a stark comparison to Jonathan and Arabella whose relationship was warm and loving even when they fought. A+ performance and characterization.

I really enjoyed watching the mini-series and I’m glad they made it 7 episodes, rather than try to squeeze this huge story into a movie. The characters got to shine and it told the biggest parts of the story. If you have not watched the mini-series, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And if you have not read the book, there’s so much to discover and enjoy!

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