ANDREW GARVEY looks at the seventh and final episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell titled Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
After six weeks of lavishly produced magically-flavoured historical drama building to the final climactic, seventh episode, the BBC’s adaptation of Susannah Clarke’s hit 2004 novel is now over.
And the grand finale was… a little disappointing, really.
The last six weeks’ worth of my reviews have been deliberately vague about this hugely enjoyable series’ actual events, leaving plenty of scope for people to read the review and still be surprised by what’s on screen.
This one will be a little different. To more fully explain the key weaknesses of the final episode, and in all fairness, the many strengths – the spoiler gloves are off.
Let’s start with the strengths…
The greatest of them all is that everyone’s narrative journey is wrapped up, explained and resolved. True, Strange and Norrell’s dual disappearance into some distant, unreachable magical realm isn’t the most satisfying ending they could have but it definitely works.
And, even though trapped there, Strange does get one final, quite affecting scene with his wife Arabella. Norrell is simply gone, as if he’s something of an afterthought. Which, as the series progressed, he increasingly was. From powerful magician to a paranoid recluse hiding in his library, it’s hard not to feel the Norrell character should have bee much more, at least for longer.
Both Lady Pole – thanks to Segundas’ effective but somewhat ill-timed magical intervention – and Arabella (rescued by her husband) are back in the real world. Lady Pole, restored to sanity leaves her husband – whose political career lies in tatters – and head to Venice to be with her friend Arabella.
The Poles’ former butler Stephen fulfils the prophecy the Gentleman revealed to him – of becoming King. That he’s the King of Lost Hope (the Fairy realm) instead of England is a neat little narrative sidestep and one that makes sense, even though it means, sadly the end of the series’ best character – the Gentleman.
Norrell’s former hangers-on Drawlight and Lascelles are both dead and his former servant Childermass is now, along with Vinculus, that tramp-looking key to the secrets of the Raven King, a central figure in the revival of English magic. Childermass, wise to the end, releases the magical society (of which Segundas and Honeyfoot are back as members of) from episode one from their promise to no longer practice magic.
So, what is there to recommend this final episode? As usual, the effects are mostly good, even if there seems to have been a sale on CGI ravens during post-production. The pace is strong and the script is witty and everyone performs as if this magical-costume-drama hokum is absolutely authentic. It’s all very entertaining. It just falls a little short.
Funny as they are, and the Gentleman’s response to being shot with a walnut-filled blunderbuss is perfectly done, it just feels as if there are too many light-hearted moments for what should be an epic conclusion to the story. Even the dour Norrell gets a few good laughs.
The Gentleman gets some of the best lines, kills off Lascelles in an imaginatively nasty way and even inserts a saucy allusion to threesomes. As such an entertainingly villainous character, it’s sad to see him inevitably defeated but made even more disappointing that it wasn’t Norrell or Strange who finish him off.
Yes, Stephen pulling off a tree-based coup that gives him power over Lost Hope makes sense and pays off his story but given how much torment the Gentleman put Strange through, it’s a little unsatisfying to see him finished off by someone else. And while Strange and Norrell had a hand in Stephen’s victory, it was more by accident than design.
Speaking of Strange and Norrell, they finally have their long-teased magical showdown. The dying Strange, under the dark spell of the Gentleman and clearly hurtling towards total madness, suddenly turns up in Norrell’s library.
And what happens? There’s a bit of shouting. Then Norrell lobs an ornament at him and runs away. Like a naughty five year old. Strange responds with a few fiery party tricks and Norrell makes it rain. A bit.
Realising they need to work together to defeat the Gentleman, they call a truce. IS THAT IT? Really? In terms of magical fisticuffs it’s hardly Gandalf and Saruman is it?
Far more violent, but even more jarring is Lascelles’ sudden transformation from sneering snob to Dirty Harry. Murdering Drawlight by shooting him in the eye, slicing open Childermass’ cheek and ‘killing’ Stephen is quite a leap from making snide comments and sucking up to Norrell.
After all those teasing references to the Raven King, we finally see him. And he looks like a second-rate guitar player in a mid-1990s doom metal band. I’m not sure what I expected but more than that, definitely.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, my high expectations only existed because the series has been of such high quality. Even here, narrative criticisms aside, the final episode was still great entertainment.
It may not have ended exactly as I wanted it to, but I’m sad to see it go.