Saturday, September 05, 2015

BBC's 'Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell' TV Adaptation Seems to Have Captured the Excellence of the Novel

Sussanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is among the books that I’ve been wanting to read but still haven’t had the opportunity to do so (find it difficult to find a copy).  I’ve read plenty of good things about it and it frequently pops out in many lists on greatest fantasy literature ever.  So when I learned that a TV adaptation is made by BBC this year, I became intrigued but hesitant to watch it.  As much as possible, I want to read the book first before seeing its screen adaptation (because, more often than not, the rule “the book is better than the film/TV series” holds true).  I was torn if I should watch it or wait patiently till after I get to read the book.

Eventually, my curiosity and the thought that it’s unlikely for me to read the book anytime soon overcame any wish in me to read the book first before watching this.

I’ve found the 7-episode mini-series quite enjoyable to marathon (watched the whole thing in one go).  It stars Bertie Carvel as Jonathan Strange and Eddie Marsan as Gilbert Norrell; both delivered fine performances, significantly contributing to keeping the long 7-hour narrative generally engaging and never dull.

Set in an alternative history around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell focuses on the partnership of the title characters, the last two magicians of England, and then their inevitable rivalry.  There’s actually something more to its premise than this, but I believe that the less information you know about it – especially if, like me, you haven’t read the book yet – the more enjoyable and fresh you will find the series to be.

However, though I liked the mini-series, I did find it a bit lacking; I expected that it would have a much more lasting impact.  This might be attributed to the fault of adaptation.  Despite not having read the book yet, the way the narrative flowed made me feel that a sizable chunk of the book’s contents – as well as, possibly, its thoughtfulness and charm – didn’t translate into the mini-series.  Nevertheless, at the same time, it also left the impression that it has still given justice to the excellence of the novel – which, until now, had been considered impossible to be adapted on screen.  (I hope that this evaluation of mine makes sense.)  

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell didn’t blew me away as I was hoping it would (maybe the book will do so when I get to read it) but it’s an amazing TV production nonetheless – rich in its plot, multi-faceted in its themes, gripping in its tone, and fantastic in its production quality.  Definitely among the best of this year’s small screen offerings.

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