This review contains spoilers
War – what is it good for? Well, apparently the reputation of magic in England…
With mirage ships, horses made of sand and the creepy Gentleman appearing around every corner, this week’s episode perfectly lives up to the high expectations set by the previous one. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is much more than just a show about magical spells that are produced by special effects, it is a story of complex characters who interact in highly interesting ways and who all have their own kinds of motives, morals and ideas about the use of magic. In ‘How is Lady Pole?’ we are given a greater sense of the world in which we are viewing and there is much more of a feeling of interconnectedness, as our two protagonists come together for the first time.
Line of the week: The dream, sir, was mine. I lay down here on purpose to dream it. I’m rather of the opinion that in England, a gentlemen’s dreams are his own private concern. – Jonathan Strange
The relationship between Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is highly amusing, but their conflicting ideas about magic show us signs that it may become much more strained as the season carries on. Mr Norrell has clearly become accustomed to being the only magician in England and he attributes this to his laborious studies of magic texts, so when he is faced with a young man who can perform magic in ways that he has never seen before, but who has not read any other book than A Children’s History of the Raven King, it is no surprise that he is taken aback. Norrell looks upon Strange with mixed feelings of admiration and fear. It is both amazing and frightening what he is capable of doing without the same level of training as Norrell subjected himself to. Of course, Norrell is very excited about taking him on as an apprentice, but in a rather funny moment he is reluctant to hand over a book to Jonathan. This makes it all the more entertaining when Jonathan is leaving for Portugal and asks to take some books with him. Norrell’s face is hilarious! Jonathan going to war is something Norrell is opposed to anyway, but for him to take is books to the battlefield is something else!
Although the episode is full of funny moments such as this, they do not come at any cost to the eerie quality of the show. This week we see a great deal more of the Gentleman, as recruits the household servant Stephen into his plans and as Lady Pole becomes increasingly erratic. In every scene that the Gentleman appears, a creepy, sinister vibe is perfectly created. The ringing of the disused bell that is covered in cobwebs becomes a great device for creating this eerie quality instantaneously. The first scene where Stephen responds to it is just one example of these great moments within the episode. It is a perfectly crafted sequence, beginning with Stephen walking through an ominous corridor towards a door that opens onto an overgrown, ruined room where a shady figure is stood. The sounds of birds flying away, the wind howling and the spooky blue light pouring in from the window into an otherwise dark room are some of the elements that make this such a good moment.
We are also given much more of a sense of the Gentleman’s ever-presence, through his continual watching over of the proceedings of the show. He essentially takes over complete control of Stephen, he drives Lady Pole into seeming madness and he even offers Arabella a handkerchief during the auction scene. Mr Norrell is fearful of what exactly this person’s intentions are. Judging by the dance hall scene, he is manipulating his fairy world and bringing in human figures such as Lady Pole and Stephen to fulfil all of his heart’s desires. He now seems to have his eyes set upon Arabella and as we have seen so far, he is very capable of getting what he wants. When the Gentleman first sees Arabella, she is talking to Jonathan about how he saw Norrell in the mirror that was to show his greatest enemy. With part of the Raven King’s prophecy being “the second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand”, will Mr Norrell perhaps try and strike up a deal with the Gentlemen involving Arabella in exchange for Lady Pole? Only time will tell, as this fantastic series proceeds further.