Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: The Education of a Magician   Books Included 
June 1, 2015 12:16 PM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Jonathan Strange accesses ancient and troubling magic as he fights the Napoleonic armies, while Mr Norrell battles to keep his secrets hidden, and the mysterious Gentleman enrols Sir Walter's servant Stephen to help him enchant the beguiling Arabella.
posted by infinitewindow (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are many things I'm enjoying about this adaptation--Eddie Marsan as Mr. Norrell and Ariyon Bakare as Stephen Black; the scenic and costume design; the overall atmosphere--but the Gentleman is so not doing it for me. There's nothing particularly other-worldly about him, let alone scary (and his obsession with Stephen Black still seems weirdly non-obsessive). The other characters respond as though he's frightening, but he's less intimidating than David Bowie in Labyrinth.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:50 PM on June 1, 2015

He's also not enticing. In the book he had a sort of - asexual thralldom vibe going in, promising more. I think it's the pasted on eyebrows.

On the other hand Lady Poole and Arabella have quite the spark.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:35 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, definitely agree with the Gentleman issues. I do not like him one bit. Even the Gentleman in Lady Pole's tapestry was more menacing.
posted by minsies at 12:26 PM on June 2, 2015

Oh, and I should mention that I'm mostly enjoying the rest of the show. (Sorry, Neapolitan zombies.)
posted by minsies at 1:02 PM on June 2, 2015

To be honest, this was always a problem I had with the book. I never found the Gentleman to be a particularly threatening presence on anything more than a personal level. You wouldn't want to attract his attention, but he seemed rather ineffectual for someone who wanted to do terrible, yet nebulous things to Mother England.
posted by Sparx at 3:24 PM on June 2, 2015

It's been forever since I read the book. Did Stephen live in America before he came to England?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:51 AM on June 3, 2015

The zombies were pretty awful, too. And the scene where Mr. Norrell visits Lady Pole and she's strapped down to the bed--exactly as in her tapestry--was chilling. I liked the use of "women's work" for Lady Pole to tell her secrets.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:59 AM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think they've done quite well bringing over a lot of the atmosphere of the novel --- Strange is a bit handsomer and a bit goofier than the book version, but still sly and charming, which is the main thing, and Norrell and bit less of a milquetoast and therefore perhaps a bit more likeable. The actor's doing well with a complex character, I think.

But I totally agree that The Gentleman is a problem. The changes they've made to Lady Pool's story in order to give the actors something to do are mostly fine, but in the process they've made the Gentleman into a simple antagonist --- someone who is aware of and desires to cause pain to his victims. Whereas the thing about magic in Clarke's book that makes it creepy is what Poole refers to as its "unenglish" quality. Its unfathomability, insusceptibility to reason. The Gentleman in the book isn't evil; he's amoral, and incapable of truly understanding human wants and desires. Whimsically, capriciously, he forms a like or a dislike; his love may turn to hatred or back to love and there's little the humans can do to anticipate it or alter it. It's this alien, irrational quality that makes him terrifying, that makes magic terrifying in the book. I think it's part of the secret of Clarke's appeal; in too many other books the as the story goes along the magic becomes systematized, mechanical, rule-bound, or otherwise simply arbitrary. In Clarke it feels like something that might wash away the real world if you let it, something truly dangerous.
posted by maggiepolitt at 4:50 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

That's an interesting take, maggiepolitt. I'd probably have a better sense of that if pretty much everything he did either required the acquiescence of his victim (by proxy of Mr Norrell in Lady Poole's case, by politeness in Steven's) or was thwarted without too much apparent effort (eg the visit to the King)

But I am nitpicking. I enjoyed the heck out of the book (though some details have faded) and am looking forward to the rest of the treatment on the televisual device.
posted by Sparx at 6:14 PM on June 3, 2015

This was my favorite episode so far. The show is becoming its own thing rather than a slavish adaptation with things cut out for time or being overly bookish. And I am definitely no longer afraid that the show is non-feminist.

My one criticism of this episode is that the makers showed Lady Pole only shooting Childermass instead of being basically superhuman in extremis as the book did.
Childermass lay amid the snow and shards of glass. He saw the woman shrug herself free of Mr Marston's grasp with what seemed like remarkable ease. She pushed him to the ground with such force that he did not get up again. She put one small, gloved hand to Davey's chest and Davey was flung several yards backwards. Mr Norrell's footman — the one who had opened the carriage door — tried to knock her down, but his blow had not the least effect upon her. She put her hand upon his face — it looked like the lightest touch in the world — he crumpled to the ground. Lucas she simply struck with the pistol.
In an episode of self-building roads under golden sunlight and uncanny Neapolitan zombies, I think some good old-fashioned wire stuntwork, shot matter-of-factly, would have been more shocking than anything any magicians or fairies did. I really wanted to see Lady Pole swatting people like flies.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:34 AM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know who made the tapestry?
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 7:34 PM on June 28, 2015

Lady Pole made the tapestry.
posted by bq at 7:48 AM on September 8, 2016

« Older Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell:...   |  Silicon Valley: White Hat/Blac... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments