ANDREW GARVEY looks at the fourth episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell titled All the Mirrors of the World
Mr Norrell, concerned only for his reputation, and that of his precious respectable English magic, even as his servant and protector Childermass fights for his life after shielding the ever-glum senior magician from Lady Pole’s bullet starts this week’s episode in fine, moaning form.
A master of understatement, Norrell admits when Childermass, fresh from two brushes with death (a gunshot wound and the terrifying attentions of early nineteenth century doctors), asks him to explain what’s happened to Lady Pole, “I confess there are some irregularities that have caused it to take an odd turn”.
You could say that.
Later, dressed up for an audience with Royalty, the eager Strange and the hangdog Norrell encounter mad, old, blind King George. Helplessly bound by the strictures of the senior practitioner’s modern magic (yes, Norrell is banging on about “the last 300 years” and magic’s inability to cure madness – yet again) they can do nothing for the King.
Returning alone, Strange messes about with a little of the Raven King’s ancient, discredited magic and is surprised to see the King in conversation with an unseen presence that is obviously the Gentleman. Almost getting the King killed with his meddling, the increasingly disillusioned Strange is moving further away from Norrell’s restrictive ideas about magic with every scene.
A comedic encounter with a pair of provincial brewers from ‘Nothinghamshire’ leads Strange into a little showing off that take takes him briefly into the unnatural world of the Fairies, from where he discovers just who has been peddling his name around town and conning the rich and gullible, pretending to be Strange and ‘teaching them magic’ by correspondence.
Uncovering an unsafe truth, the impatient Strange is convinced “there is more magic possible than I have ever dreamed.” Oh, there is.
After last week’s dose of zombified Neapolitan soldiers, stolen cannons, explosions, war with the French and an attempted assassination, this fourth installment of the BBC’s smartly written, consistently entertaining fantasy/historical drama feels smaller and slower this week but does a great job of setting the stage for the next episode.
Again, the Gentleman steals the show, even in his brief scenes, his every carefully uttered word dripping calculated malevolence. Strange and Norrell’s relationship, shaky since the second episode, is hurtling towards complete and total breakdown. Heading into the last three episodes, a magical confrontation awaits.