JS & Mr N came to a spell-binding climax last night. Apparently viewing figures plummeted during its 7 week run, a bit like Jonathan Strange’s self-induced plummet into madness. Well, those who accepted an invitation to this Regency dance (and there was an awful lot of enforced dancing) and then decided to leave the party early missed out on a final episode that threw everything but the kitchen sink at this mesmerised and enchanted viewer – and who knows, I may have missed that particular 19th century artifact flying across our screens.
The CGI kraken was finally unleashed as Strange cracked all the mirrors, allowing magic back into England, then relocated himself and his black tower (aka prison of eternal night, the perfect complement to his manic depression) back to dear old Blighty and plonked it down right on top of Norrell’s stately home of a house. Not content with smothering Norrell in a cyclone of black smoke and unhappiness, he also brought along an ‘unkindness’ or ‘conspiracy’ of ravens (those obsolete collective nouns for a bunch of ravens are just brilliant aren’t they?) You can’t beat a perfect swarm of ravens for injecting that necessary dose of pace, shock and fear into the proceedings.
As this series progressed it became clear, in spite of fine acting performances all round, that this was Bertie Carvel’s show. His performance as Strange went from irresponsible charmer, to eager sorcerer’s apprentice, to responsible married man, to war hero with a case of post traumatic stress syndrome, to a man driven mad by grief, to finally end as a great and powerful magician – and through it all Carvel managed to combine vulnerability with power, humour with pathos and quite a bit of sex and rock and roll. Give that man a BAFTA Sir, he’s a star in the making.
Loose ends were rapidly brought together, as was Lady Pole and her finger, and we at last got to see John Uskglass, or the Raven King, looking like he’d escaped from a Goth convention and hadn’t cut his hair in 300 years. Other than resurrecting Vinculus, his living book, and doing a quick spot of re-editing, the Raven King’s part was a small one, to be replaced by all of English magic being shoved into the body of Stephen, the butler and nameless slave.
Mr Lascelles, who had seemed such a minor figure to begin with, became a force to be reckoned with as he went on a kind of refined killing spree, firstly doing away with Drawlight, then slicing Childermass across his northern sullen cheek before appearing to murder the magical butler. Enraged, the Gentleman with Thistledown Hair appeared just in time to shatter Lascelle’s snobbish hopes and aspirations by literally shattering him into a thousand china pieces.
Strange saved his Arabella with an enchantment breaking kiss (that’s how it usually works in fairy land.) He and Norrell became best friends forever as the Gentleman’s curse left them trapped inside an alternate universe, with no apparent means of escape; although Strange did manage to communicate with Arabella via a basin of water, rather like a magical watery version of Skype (I’ll never look at mirrors or the washing up bowl in quite the same way again.) The Gentleman got his comeuppance – and this time it was the butler who did it. Lady Pole took up the cause of feminism and Childermass, Vinculus and Segundus became leading lights in the newly re-formed Society of York Magicians, nicely taking us back to where we began.
There’s only one thing left to say about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: The BBC, in a very Strange-like way, more than succeeded in restoring televisual magic back into England.