Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's Talk Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

I can't remember the last time a book grabbed me and immersed me quite the way Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell did. This wasn't a book that I was necessarily in a rush to read until I saw a) that the BBC was making a miniseries out of it and b) so many of my friends immediately began raving about how good it was.

So I dove in. What I thought was going to be a fairly standard fantasy novel ended up being so much more. It's still fantasy, but it has elements of Infinite Jest, The Prestige, all sorts of fairy tales, European's no surprise that the book took nearly a decade to finish.

Come along beyond the jump for more on the book and some guesses as to what good casting might look like for the miniseries!

Ultimately, the book is an alternate history of England (and, in a sense, Europe) where magic is real and magicians exist. Norrell is one of these magicians and has made it rather difficult for magic to be practiced, and Jonathan Strange, who arrives and also practices magic. The book covers the rivalry that forms and the inevitable results of it.

What's great about this book? Pretty much everything. I could nitpick here and there for sure, but the sober historical analysis (it reads like a history book in many ways) combined with the short scenes that merely add some flavor to the overall text, to some of the more exciting exchanges throughout, to not really knowing anyone's real allegiances or whether they're "good" or "bad" or whether any of that really matters? Everything about this book was just really well-executed, and kept me hooked.

A book never takes me a week to finish, but it's that dense and that attention-grabbing that I had to take my time with it, so to speak. It really deserves all the accolades it has received over the years, and it's really someone everyone with some time and energy should check out.

So they're going to take this book and film it as a six part miniseries. Probably a good idea, altogether, as I cannot imagine this being compressed into a comprehensible two-to-three hour movie. But in trying to figure out who would play who?

Well, first you need to cast Mr Norrell, who is the primary character for the first third of the book. To me, this one is obvious - the person needs to be able to present both a good facade as well as a sinister side, and I can't think of anyone who fits the bill better than Rupert Friend. He's done plenty of period cinema (The Young Victoria, Pride and Prejudice) and is absolutely brilliant on season two of Homeland.

The next person would be Jonathan Strange, who has to have a sort of manic earnestness while also being able to show a significant dynamism as the story moves from place to place for them. For whatever reason, my mind always went back to Sam Rockwell. Maybe known best either for Moon or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I think he walks the line between cool/calm/confident and crazy on screen rather well, and, assuming the BBC would accept an American actor for a very British role, all the better.

Without giving too much away, one man is consistently described as "a gentleman with thistle-down hair." I always got a bit of a Crispin Glover vibe to him, but a Tom Hiddleson would probably be more accurate. Neither of them are entirely...correct, though. I may have read him a little wrong, but I saw him as somewhat younger and more sinister. Glover certainly doesn't fit that vibe, and Hiddleston very well could, but one may assume that it would feel a little too close to Loki on a number of levels. Why not, then, Ben Whishaw? He played Q in Skyfall, is a regular on the current BBC Newsroom/Mad Men attempt The Hour, and, with a little hair gel and dye, could very well pass for how I envisioned him in the book.

There are also the women of the story. Strange's wife, Arabella, and Lady Pole are both minor characters with significant relationships to the plot. If she were ten years older, Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter) would fit in well in one of those slots. There's also the characters of John Segundus, Vinculus, John Childermass, and Stephen Black to cast as well - if you've read the book, suggestions are welcome.

The BBC series is supposed to come out sometime in 2013, so we truly won't have to wait too long. Any time is too long for me at this point, but it's something to look forward to.

Book available to buy from Book Depository.

No comments:

Post a Comment