I binge watched a TV series based on one of my favorite books the other weekend.
“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell“, the epic 2004 novel by Susanna Clarke, was made into a 7 episode TV series (about 1 hour each episode) by the BBC (2015).
The book is not for everyone. It’s slow to start, the plot is convoluted, with many sub plots. We don’t even meet one of the protagonists until a few chapters into the book.
It’s a long book: it took the author 10 years to write it. The paperback version is 1024 pages long. It took me easily two or three months to read it, even though, after the slow start, I was hooked. I know 4 people other than me who read the entire book – not many!
Then I re-read the entire book a couple of years later, and keep re-reading bits and pieces regularly. Despite the time and effort it takes to read the book, the intricate complexity and true humanity of characters and their relationships weaved skillfully into a historic context, make it irresistible.
It delights me that the TV series was conceived to be long enough to have a chance to give that justice.
The series did not disappoint. (OK, I was eager to turn my brain off for 7 hours the easy way that weekend, but still.) The main storyline holds together, although it would probably be harder to follow for someone who did not read the book. Harder, but not impossible.
Some subplots are understandably omitted. Some chapters are rewritten in a way that arguably moves the plot along better given a different medium and a limited time frame. Arguably.
In my unqualified undedicated consumer opinion, the cinematography was more than adequate, and the acting excellent. The actors portray the characters with depth and subtlety.
And yet, now that I watched the series, I grieve what has been lost. Since I quite liked the series, I am inclined to express the grievances, as a way to express the love for the book. And humanity. And complexity of relationships.
I’d like for this to be a multipart series of grievances. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll start with the easiest part for now. The characters. As I’ve said above, the acting is superb. However, as I read the book, I imagined them a certain way. There goes that.
When the series was first announced, somebody published these casting suggestions. I wish!
Jonathan Strange has “reddish hair” in the book. One would imagine a dark redhead. Not in the movie. Could be a bit skinnier, too, like someone who’d forget a meal or two now and then.
Mr. Norrell is too young. Drawlight is too old.
Arabella could use more softness in appearance, so the inner strength shines through. Lady Pole is too healthy.
Childermass is way too handsome. Not dark enough, not giving us a chance to hate him a little bit, before seeing his humanity.
The gentleman with Thistledown hair is too human, and …anyone googled thistle down before making him up? Because that’s not what it looks like.
To be fair, John Segundus is pretty cool, and so is Stephen Black.
As for John Uskglass – I’ll get to him in one of the upcoming grievances in this aspiring series. There will be more depth and a truckload of spoilers in the future entries.
4 thoughts on “So I Watched a TV Series Based on a Favorite Book”
Thanks Anna, I did try to watch the first episode and could not get through it. Now I know to read the book and then have two sources of entertainment.
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The book becomes quite entertaining once you get through the first 100 pages or so!