Hugo Recommendation Season: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

So between holiday season and the local windpocalpyse that had us without power for nearly a week, I haven’t been keeping current writing up Hugo recommendations for the last month, but I also haven’t had strong opinions about the recent categories either. I’ve been content to read others’ recommendations, rather than formulating any recommendations of my own, and those have been tremendously helpful.

With Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) coming up, however, I do have some opinions. Rather than yet another review of Mad Max or Star Wars, however, I wanted to suggest something that hasn’t received quite as much critical attention.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell

So, true confession, I haven’t actually read Susanna Clarke’s book on which the seven-part BBC miniseries adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is based. But having read a few disgruntled reviews of the series from fans of the book who objected to the liberties that the BBC took with the source material, I’m at least in a good place to judge the series on its own merits rather than in comparison to a beloved book.

Visually, it’s gorgeous, with a moody, atmospheric palette and beautiful production design, but it’s no secret that the BBC already does period drama well. The truly pleasant surprise was the casting: Bertie Carvel is equally at home playing Jonathan Strange, the waggish upstart, as he is Jonathan Strange, the man pushed in way too deep by his own hubris and self-promotion. And Eddie Marsan, as Mr Norrell, nails the part in both its reclusive timidity and its incendiary jealousy.

There’s some GGI involved – this is an alternative nineteenth-century where magic is real, after all – but the show is tastefully parsimonious in its application, reserving the special effects for climactic scenes where they’ll have the biggest impact, while well-written dialog and character development do the real heavy lifting. The series in total clocks in around seven hours total, but well worth a weekend binge watch.