Thursday, 25 June 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: How Is Lady Pole?

Something different today: a guest post from MrVortexOfDoom, whose YouTube channel you would be wise to have a look at, particularly if you happen to be partial to a bit of Doctor Who.

He and I will be alternating episodes of this splendid serial, and then going head to head for the finale.

That's the compere bit over with; let me hand you over to MrVortexOfDoom...

“I see no one. Or rather, I see roomfuls of people – and not a Christian amongst them”

What really annoys me about peoples’ appreciation of British telly is the fact that we in Britain can't recognise the fantastic and clever product being made in our backyard – while Americans lap quality like this up. Of course, our friends in the US regularly have at least a dozen hours of superb product to digest per week – while all we seem to want is more reality nonsense and documentaries about cats. 

Episode two of “The TV fantasy of 2015” (according to Rolling Stone .com , don’t’cha know) deals this out in spades. Having just finished rereading the fantastic novel by Susanna Clarke, you realise several things. 

1. Somehow, the BBC has managed to get the film rights back from New Line Cinema after the film giant collapsed – that’s why the adaption has taken 10 years to get to us. 

2. How much of an epic struggle it has been to get the monster 782 pages down to a workable mini-series.

And:  3. How much of a challenge it is to pack the iconic scenes into each episode. You read the chapter on the French discovering the rainships & the epic Sandhorses sequence and you think “well, I’m never going to see THAT on screen”. And then, they only go and show it. A brilliant &  breath-taking achievement.

However, what really is striking me about this is the attention to detail, taken faithfully from the novel. Writer Peter Harness could easily have chosen to cut the references to antiquarian times and antiquarian books of magic in favour of seven episodes of CGI and effects. But instead, in a bold move that’s not pleasing everyone, you really feel that the past history of magic is oozing through every minute. I cheered at every namecheck of days long gone – Sutton-Grove, Ormskirk, Mary Absalom, Ralph Stokesey, Lanchesters’ History Of Birds (and a wonderful set-up with Revelations Of Thirty-Six Worlds – which has a great pay-off later (I hope)).

And as well as all that, the episode continues to lay further intriguing questions at your feet. The constant cawing of ravens through the soundtrack. The influence of Fairie and the real world gradually being intertwined (Segundus & Stranges’ shared dream and Stephen's mysterious extra servants bell). The very fact that Segundus can sense magic being performed (store that in your mind palace for later). And a second lovely little set-up with the St Marks Square, Venice paintings. 

Of course, you could just discount all that and go goggle-eyed about how FANTASTIC Lost-Hope looks. But that would be a disservice to the source material and the sheer effort put in to what was considered in many areas an unfilmable novel. 

Enzo Cilenti as Childermass continues to rule every scene he’s in, looking moody in the background (it’s a fun game to spot just how much he’s taking in and observing). However, top billing for episode 2 in my eyes must go to Alice Englert and Bertie Carvel. Englert's Lady Pole starts to unravel badly with all the “fairy stories” taken directly from the text. And Strange himself is starting to believe just how far he can go in the magical world – with just one person standing in his way. 

And here’s a top piece of trivia for regular llama stranglers. Alice Englert's mother? Of all people, Jane Campion !! (Oscar-winning director of The Piano, In the Cut and the Top Of The Lake miniseries). If that juicy morsel doesn’t get you looking forward to episode 3, I don’t know what will.

VoD 2015  

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