Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Episode Five

A supremely accomplished episode starts with a harrowing depiction of the Battle of Waterloo which Toby Haynes shoots with all the required gusto. Mingled with the once again recruited Strange’s magic the result is a great sequence culminating in a giant hand of mud squashing a soldier about to kill the magician. Clearly Napoleon’s key mistake was not also employing a magician. Spookily this week is actually the 200th anniversary of the battle as well. This mightily impressive opening turns out to be merely a curtain raiser for what’s to come. You have to credit Bertie Carvel who has to encompass a range of emotions and situations in an episode he dominates successfully. As for the story, well it has suddenly become a lot more linear and accessible. The pace of this episode in particular is as sharp as any contemporary drama.
Mr Norrell is appalled, again.

The Arabella of the title is of course Mrs Strange and this is where she is taken to Lost Hope, the Gentleman’s bizarre tree dominated ballroom where Lady Pole is already a nocturnal resident. I don’t think I was paying enough attention to the first episode because I still can’t work out what the point of the place is. Maybe we’re not supposed to know. Anyway this happens after Strange has finally renounced practical magic in the wake of his horrible experiences at Waterloo. In that tome honoured dramatic manner the couple are domestically content for one scene before someone come knocking on their door and Mrs Strange embarks on a nighttime wander from which she will return mad and from which she will die.
The curious aspect of the episode is Strange’s reaction to his wife’s disappearance and subsequent death. He will, he confidentially tells her grieving brother, bring her back to life. However he can’t work out how to do it as Norrell did as his own previous attempt a couple of episode back created zombies. He pleads by letter to Norrell for advice, help and the other magician dithers. There’s something in Eddie Marsan’s body language that suggests Norrell wants to help but is too affronted by Strange’s decision to publish books about old magic. He is also under duress from associates notably the surly Childermass.
Throughout the series Enzo Cilenti has been a real presence about whom were in the drama and we’re never quite sure. Is he is more than just Norrell’s servant and advisor? Certainly what looked like his picture was seen in an old painting the other week. From initially seeming to be a mysterious influential yet probably evil character Childermass has become more perplexing as the series progresses. Cilenti is a master at making this work. This episode sees him parlez with Strange and the duo reach if not an accord, than an understanding.
Though they only come face to face momentarily the push and pull between Strange and Norrell is going to darker places and suggests a big battle to come. For all Norrell’s protestations that his former apprentice will ruin English magic you can’t help but feel it is not for him to decide. From the start he has been a self –styled influence and a lot of his bubbling annoyance with Strange seems to be because someone dares contradict him. Both lead actors have done a great job inhabiting these unusual people and this is the best episode yet in a series that continues to intrigue.

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