ANDREW GARVEY looks at the third episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell titled The Education of a Magician
Missing her absent husband, Arabella Strange spends her time visiting the still-unhinged Lady Pole (who is making a brilliantly creepy tapestry detailing her supernatural torments that should win some kind of ‘prop of the year’ award) and not quite realising that she’s the focus of so many attentions.
The menacingly fey Gentleman, looking snazzy as ever in green velvet and with that spectacular, improbable hair, materialises and warns her that her husband may find life at home impossibly dull after going off adventuring in Portugal.
He may be right, sinister, magical fairies often are, but things don’t go well for Jonathan on his arrival in Lisbon. Puffed up by his beach-based triumph in the previous episode, and by the lavish praise of politicians who think magic will swing the fight against the French in England’s favour, he’s eager to help. But sadly for the puppyishly eager Strange, he’s generally dismissed, ignored and sneered at by everyone he meets, including a brilliantly sarcastic Lord Wellington (played, hopefully in more upcoming episodes, by Ronan Vibert).
The Gentleman (who is also busy involving the Poles’ butler Stephen in his grimly enchanted plans) isn’t the only one stalking Arabella. Christopher Drawlight accosts her in the street and Norrell, who is somehow even more cheerless than he was before, has his man Childermass intercepting her letters.
Less interestingly, Segundas and Honeyfoot waste a minute or so of screen time trying to set up Hogwarts, sorry, Unseen University, no, wait, some other school for magicians. Quite what they expect to teach their students is unclear but they could do with being disappeared. Or being sawn in half.
Back in Portugal, Wellington and his officers quiz Strange about magic. “Could a magician kill a man by magic?” Wellington asks. Strange responds “I suppose a magician could, but a gentleman never would.”
Now, remember that I haven’t read the book and don’t know where the story is going from week to week but when he said that, there may as well have been someone in the background jumping up and down while holding a great big sign that reads ‘FORESHADOWING’.
Sent on an impossible mission by Wellington, things go badly for Strange and for the first time, after declaring “my magic is exhausted” faces a proper test of character that forces a little meddling with ancient magic he doesn’t truly understand.
That and events surrounding Lady Pole make this by far the darkest and best episode so far. It still has plenty of humorous touches and events move along at the show’s now customary rattling pace but this week it’s concerned far more with death, suffering and the consequences of magic.