Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – DVD Review

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
The Series
Sitting on my bookshelf is a book I bought for my mum, borrowed from her, started and never finished. That book is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; the adaptation of which just finished a seven week run on the BBC. Having enjoyed what little I managed to read all those years ago I decided to give the TV series a try. I loved it from the start.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is set in an alternative version of 19th-century England in which magic is real but has not been practiced for hundreds of years. Instead magical societies are made up of theoretical magicians who are no more likely to produce a spell than an astronomer is to produce a star. Enter Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) a quiet and studious man who has slowly amassed a great library of books on magic. Norrell wagers with his local magical society that if he can perform a feat of magic they must disband and never be allowed to call themselves magicians again. Sure enough magic is restored to England with Norrell the sole practitioner.

Meanwhile Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), a wealthy man with no vocation, is approached by a mad man and told that he is a magician. Strange takes his cue and pursues magic and before too long the two magicians are in London trying to work together. Norrell favours a modern scholarly approach to magic whilst Strange possesses a more natural talent and seeks to access the older magic of the Raven King; a mythical figure who seemingly brought magic to the country before turning against it. Throw in the Napoleonic war, making deals with mystical creatures to raise people from the dead, and the polite sparring of two English gentleman and you have yourself a series.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is great. Need I say more? The series is funny, dark, and fantastical. Considering it has to combine both period elements and supernatural special effects the show does a wonderful job of realising both. With BBC productions I come to expect a certain level of ropiness when it comes to special effects but Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell somehow executes everything flawlessly. There is a real cinematic quality to the visuals that takes the show above and beyond expectations. It is all the easier to succumb to a show when you aren’t constantly pointing out where the green screen was used.

Great visuals are all well and good but without a strong cast they are worthless. Luckily the acting is just as good. Carvel gives a wonderful performance as he takes Strange from a layabout to a passionate magician and finally presents him as a man possessed. Marsan as Norrell gives a subtle and relatable performance as a man slowly corrupted by his desire to do good. I want to single out other members of the cast but once I started it got a bit out of control. Suffice it to say that there is no weak link amongst them.

In adapting Susanna Clarke’s original novel Peter Harness has successfully wrangled a hefty book into a stripped down narrative. The resulting series is both terrifying and funny, moving and fantastical. I wish the BBC made more of this quality, and less like The Casual Vacancy. I also wish that more people had seen Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell when it aired as it is a real treat.

If only they could get it on DVD instead…

I think I might finish that book now.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell 2
The Extras
The series is accompanied by a decent set of extras. There is sadly no nerdily in-depth behind the scenes documentary but there is a good package of mostly talking heads from the cast and crew. Surprisingly enough there is a bloopers reel which was OK and a few deleted scenes which were much more interesting. For anyone marvelling at the visuals like me the most intriguing extra will be the breakdowns of special effects from the first two episodes. The extras might not be worth investing in the DVD for but the quality and entertainment value of the series more than makes up for it.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and… book. It is well worth your time and money.

I, Anna – LFF Review

I, Anna is a modern-day British noir thriller. DCI Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne) is investigating a brutal murder while struggling through a divorce and starting to date the mysterious Anna (Charlotte Rampling) who has plenty of secrets to unveil before the film’s end. The film’s plot is too delicate to discuss in much more detail and I’m afraid that pulling on any one thread will reveal too much.

I, Anna is a great showcase of older UK acting talent. Byrne plays a troubled man struggling between loyalties and Rampling shows a tender frailty with the hint of something dangerous bubbling below the surface. Both characters garnered a lot of sympathy as we were allowed an insight into both their lives beyond the case at hand. Rampling’s trip to a singles night was heartbreaking; a bewildered divorced woman looking for companionship being given advice on oral sex in the toilets makes for a slightly tragic tableau. In a similar position Byrne’s character was forced to stoop to looking up a woman’s car registration in the police database in order to force a chance encounter. These are two desperately lonely characters caught up in an impossible situation.

I’m not sure if it is just me or a sign of the state of TV and film but it was almost odd to see a crime drama with middle-aged characters on the big screen. It is more common to see this style of drama on BBC1 or ITV with the cinema reserved only for crime dramas involving the younger, more violent end of the criminal scale.

I, Anna was gripping, surprising, and superbly acted. While a cinematic release is scheduled for September 7th in the UK I can’t help but feel that the film is better suited to a TV viewing.

Tyrannosaur – Review

Extrapolated from the short film Dog Altogether, Paddy Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur follows the tentative friendship formed between eternally angry and violent Joseph (Peter Mullan), and the tragic charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman).

This is not the uplifting story of redemption you might be expecting, the pair don’t solve each other’s problems. The film is far more raw and honest than that, at no point satisfied with walking the expected path. To say there is a plot twist would make the story seem too gimmicky, let’s just say there is a moment that shocked me and which I couldn’t have seen coming.

Tyrannosaur risks falling into the over-subscribed category of the “gritty british drama” yet somehow elevates itself above that. The film is much more cinematic than your average kitchen sink drama; dark shots with a sharp focus raise the production values above its peers.

While Considine has done a brilliant job directing, the emphasis in Tyrannosaur is most definitely on character. Peter Mullan plays a brilliantly layered and emotionally damaged Joseph, a man so irredeemable in the opening scene and yet ultimately a man who we root for. Olivia Colman is at the top of her game, that slight sadness she sometimes allows to show in her eyes during otherwise comedic performances take centre stage as she rises triumphantly as a dramatic actress. Eddie Marsan also deserves a nod for bringing to life character so hateful the audience is against him before he speaks his first line.

Powerful, brutal and honest. An attention grabbing and emotionally raw feature debut from Paddy Considine. Olivia Colman broke my heart and Peter Mullan terrified me. In the months since I saw this film I haven’t been able to shake its shadow. Superb.

To watch this video, you need the latest Flash-Player and active javascript in your browser.