Just in time to give you a flavour of what to expect at their MCM London Comic Con panel, the stars of BBC One’s magical new drama Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell last night appeared on our TV screens for the show’s spell-binding first episode.
Based on Susanna Clarke’s hugely popular novel, the seven-part series is set in a version of 18th century England where magic has been suppressed for 300 years. In Episode One, “The Friends of English Magic”, a young man named Segundus travels to York to meet a group of self-professed magicians, only to discover that they consider the practice of magic “ungentlemanly”, and study the art only in theory. In seeking out spell books, however, Segundus eventually encounters the reclusive Mr Norrell, the country’s last true magician, who is destined to reinstate practical magic as a legitimate pursuit.
With the help of Norrell’s assistant, Childermass, Segundus manages to coax the magician out of hiding and down to London to meet with politicians, where he offers up his talents to aid British soldiers in the Napoleonic wars. But when War Secretary Sir Walter Pole refuses his services, Norrell decides to prove himself by raising a young woman from the dead, resulting in a disturbing encounter with a sinister magical being. Meanwhile, a half-mad street magician claiming to be a servant of the mysterious Raven King predicts dark and terrible things to come, both for Norrell, and his fellow magician-to-be, Jonathan Strange.
“The Friends of English Magic” is a visual treat, mixing the historical with the fantastic in stunning style: think Harry Potter meets Jane Austen and you’re more or less there. Despite its 60-minute length, it’s pacy and engaging, with winning characters and a strong through-narrative.
The series also boasts an exciting cast, with Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, The World’s End, Little Dorrit) and Enzo Cilenti (Wolf Hall, Spooks, Guardians of the Galaxy) totally enthralling as the proud and bookish Mr Norrell and his pushy assistant Childermass, while Edward Hogg (Indian Summers, Jupiter Ascending, The Borgias) is perfect as the nervous and naively hopeful Segundus. Vincent Franklin follows up his excellent performances in Cucumber and The Thick of It by taking on the similarly deluded character Drawlight, and Paul Kaye (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Dracula Untold) is suitably insane as the creepy, prophesying street magician Vinculus. The show also stars Bertie Carvel (who has appeared in Sherlock, Primeval and Doctor Who, as well as lending his voice to the Star Wars – The Old Republic games) in the second of the title roles, supported by the ever-fabulous Charlotte Riley (Peaky Blinders, Wuthering Heights, Edge of Tomorrow) as his possible future fiancée, Arabella. Sam West (Van Helsing, Mr Selfridge, The Hollow Crown) also puts in a brief appearance as the sceptical Sir Walter Pole, along with Ariyon Bakare (Jupiter Ascending, Dancing on the Edge, The Dark Knight) as his servant, Steven Black.
We’re excited to see where the series goes next, but even more excited at the chance to hear from actors Bertie Carvel and Paul Kaye, along with scriptwriter Peter Harness (Doctor Who, Wallander, Is Anybody There?), director Toby Haynes (Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Musketeers, Being Human) and producer Nick Hirschkorn (Skellig, Five Children and It), at this month’s MCM London Comic Con, where they’ll be participating in a panel discussion at 4pm on Saturday 23rd May.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is produced by Cuba Pictures for BBC One and BBC America, in association with Feel Films, Far Moor and Bell Media’s Space. It was part funded with investment from Screen Yorkshire’s Yorkshire Content Fund, and is distributed by Endemol Worldwide. To make sure you don’t miss the chance to keep ahead of the game and get an exclusive insight into this brilliant new show, make sure you book your tickets from the MCM Comic Con website. You can also catch up on the first episode on BBC iPlayer here, or watch the trailer below.