I have to confess that I don’t normally watch adaptations of books on TV. I either have read the book in question and have no faith in the attempt to bring to the screen (my favourite bits in books are often obscure little moments that get cut in the necessity of making something 1000 or so pages long be told in the space of three or four episodes), or haven’t read the book because it was of no interest of me and therefore would have an equal lack of enthusiasm for the screen version.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has managed to creep its way into my viewing schedule though, albeit accidentally. I must admit that although the book sounded interesting from the back cover blurb, it got pushed all too easily into ‘I should read’ list rather than the ‘I want to read’ one. Stuck on Sunday night with nothing to watch (seriously, do programme schedule people assume only the over-60’s turn on their TV on the Sabbath?) the adaptation easily won the ‘least bad’ option.

In truth, I am rather enjoying it, even if it is moving at a glacial pace. The chalk-and-cheese titular characters, played by Bertie Carvell and Eddie Marsan, are fascinating characters. Strange is all foppish aristocrat, tumbling upon his new life through accident and becoming a brilliant magician through innate talent rather than practice. Norrell, on the other hand, is the book-worm, jealous of his new protégé/rival’s talents and snobbish of how he acquired them. The second episode, where Norrell begrudgingly realised that all of his time honed-skills were paling in comparison to the natural gift of the upstart Strange, was smartly done.

Then there are two shadows to contend with, The Gentleman and The Raven King. The former, played by Marc Warren as some devilish rake with a side-line in tart ripostes, is front of stage at the moment, proving to be an added complication to Norrell’s fall from grace. The latter, so far unseen, is likely to be the more malevolent force, and will hopefully step things up a gear (bar the odd moment this programme as hardly tested the viewers’ mettle).

My one dislike about this is the two main female characters – Strange’s wife and Lady Pole, seem to be a little on the outskirts of the plot at the moment (even the Gentleman has started paying more attention to a male servant). However, there are hints these two characters could develop more when they interact with each other.

Is this my favourite show of the year? No. But it is passing the time on Sunday evenings quite pleasantly. It’s a long wait until Downton Abbey comes back, and we need something to fill it.

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