Starring: Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsen, Marc Warren
This enthralling tale of rival magicians, adapted from the novel by Susanna Clarke, has to be the best thing the BBC has made in years. Elegantly unfolding over the course of seven episodes, it sees supernatural doings returning to a sceptical Georgian England locked in a struggle with Napoleon, and sends its protagonist on a compelling arc from mild-mannered dilettante to wild-eyed visionary.
The first episodes, in particular, are enormously enjoyable, as Strange heads to the Peninsula to meet Wellington and become the army’s unwilling Merlin, and Norrell tries to establish himself in London, his longing for vainglory at odds with his natural reclusiveness. It’s hard to imagine a better Norrell that Eddie Marson – he brilliantly captures the feeling of a man ill at ease in his own skin and driven to acts of meanness by timidity and curdled low spirits. Just as good, in his own way, is Enzo Cilenti as Norrell’s servant Childermass, who has all the menace and commanding presence that Norrell lacks. And then there’s Marc Warren’s delicious turn as The Gentleman, with his voice from the grave, his wide baleful eyes and his stiff, Nosferatu-like posture – after a standout performance like that, his phone will doubtless be red hot with offers from Hollywood to play super villains.
A great cast is supported by a lyrically literate script and first-rate production design and FX – the splashy magical set-pieces, of course, but also the loving evocations of 1800s London and York. Arguably the Lost Hope scenes are a little underpowered, and Norrell isn’t given enough to do is the middle episodes, but so much else in this show has gone magnificently right that it seems pointless to cavil. Okay, BBC, now more of the same, please. 10/10
A well-made and informative 25-min “making of”, with the actors, scriptwriter and director talking about securing the rights, adapting the book and bringing its key themes to the forefront. Marc Warren reveals that his silver wig was inspired by Sting’s look in Dune.~ Various sequences showing how the FX were composited. ~ 11 mins of deleted scenes, including several Napoloenic ones, which are particularly nice to have. 6/10