Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Blu-ray Review
The Blu-ray does full justice to this riveting show
TV Series Review
“Can a magician kill a man by magic?”
“I suppose a magician might, but a gentleman never could.”Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell started life as a fantasy/alternate history crossover novel by author Susanna Clarke and was long thought un-filmable. However if Tolkien can be adapted so can Clarke, and even though there have been rumours of a film for years, no two/three hour epic could ever do justice to the enigmatic prose so embossed in the book. No, there was only ever one option: a TV series. And only two companies could ever hope to provide the richness of production: HBO or the BBC. And it was the BBC, the company famed for its period dramas, who decided to take the plunge in a delicious seven part retelling of the book – and the result is spellbinding; managing to capture the book's essence and resonating with long-time fans and acquiring new ones along the way. The tale takes place during the Napoleonic Wars; magic, real magic not conjuring tricks, has been lost to England for three hundred years and no-one knows why.Secret organisations meet to discuss and debate, but to practice is a lost art. That is until Mr Norrell, a reclusive, reticent, quietly arrogant, but brilliant Practicing Magician comes to London to aid in the Government’s war efforts. However, once there he comes across a prophecy, to wit he learns of another practicing Magician, Jonathan Strange, dashing, though quirky and unfocused; the two are at odds – one self-taught and rigorous, the other natural. The series follows their intertwined fortunes after Mr Norrell, in hoping to gain favour, bargains with the dark side and thus unwittingly sets their fates on a dangerous path, one that will ultimately fulfill the prophecy and discover the path of English Magic. To say any more would spoil the fun of the piece, save to say it follows very closely to the book's narrative and manages to capture that peculiar sense of being that made it so compelling, as such the show itself becomes riveting viewing.
Picture QualityThe Blu-ray presents a broadcast correct widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio at 1080i transfer using the AVC codec and is Region free.
On the whole the image has a very pleasing quality throughout. Shot digitally the detail on show is fantastic, from skin texture and hair piece ensemble, to the intricate clothing weaves of the period dress, from the grass and woodland in Yorkshire to the cobblestone roads and brick built buildings of London, to the hard rocky desert landscape to the lush forestry and rough bark of the foreign battle lands, from the intricate wall coverings of Harley Street to the delicate and ornate plasterwork of the decoration; everything has a keen edge and a surface that looks like you can feel it. Never any hint of softness throughout.
The Blu-ray has a very pleasing image throughout
Colouring is well maintained even though the overall style tends towards a blue-ish hue the primaries are still strong; reds are suitably vivid and bold, while greens are lush looking and the blues are cool with terrific grading. Check out the red of the London brickwork, or the green, green grasslands, or the oranges of the rocky peninsular to the dusky sunsets over the same.
Contrast and brightness for 99% of the time are set to give strong deep blacks that add very nice depth to the frame and maintain some shadow detail when required. This adds punch to the picture but, for that odd 1%, the blacks can pick up the picture hue (digital grading) or worse tend towards the grey; though rare it does shorten the frame tremendously and the blacks crush terribly.
Digitally there no compression problems, no edge enhancement, a whiff of banding, but no other issues to report. The digital source is, of course, in pristine condition.
Sound QualityJust the one track to choose from: English LPCM 2.0 stereo. What is it with the BBC; why not give this premier release a 5.1 surround track, it devalues the set straight away even if, as in this case, the stereo track is excellent. Dialogue is well layered into the mix, sounds very natural and given some directionality when required. Indeed the stereo effects are well maintained throughout, with street noises (the markets), windswept moors (Yorkshire) and horses coming into frame with their respective sound following suit. The battle field artillery and soldier manoeuvres, the creaking that heralds the arrival of the Gentleman etc., are all well rendered. The score too is well layered and makes full use of the stereo landscape, never drowning out the action and is suitably wide and dynamic. Bass level is slightly lacking, in that there are very limited LF effects, but everything is grounded nicely and tight; just don’t expect deep level bass rumbling because there isn’t any, though the aforementioned creaking is suitably dense. For a stereo track it is very good, the information is nicely played out, effects are good, it just the track could have been so much more.
ExtrasThe Making of Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell – Just under half our feature in the same vein as ‘Dr Who Confidential’, i.e. contributions from cast and crew members interspersed with film and behind-the-scenes clips.
Deleted Scenes – Runs for about 10 minutes with six in total; interesting but adds nothing new.
Bloopers – About a minute, fluffs, gaffs and horse farts.
Making-of shots Episodes 1 and 2 – couple of minutes spent on the effects added to the episodes; too short to be of any real value.
Picture Gallery – Just under three minute slide show.
Picture Gallery: Behind The Scenes – The same just shorted and are production pictures.
Blu-ray VerdictJonathon Strange & Mr Norrell is an historical fantasy TV show from the novel of the same name by Suzanna Clarke made in lavish style by the BBC. Famed for their detail and production values when it comes to period dramas the BBC have gone all out to bring to life early nineteenth century (during the Napoleonic Wars) London with costume, set and design that rivals the very best productions.
The writing and directing duties, handled by Peter Harness and Toby Haynes respectively, are sympathetic to the original prose, managing to capture that inner sense of being, nature and attitude that made the novel so compelling, and in doing so have crafted a show the breathes. Pacing is very deliberate and the whole series builds throughout and being in seven parts is crucially given the room it needs to explore a world where magic exists and practicing magicians as well as faeries and kings live, roam and do battle. Special mention must go to the casting, as every choice seems absolutely spot on to their respective character from the book.
The story of two practicing magicians brought together by prophecy, with one of the pair's own hubris releasing a necessary evil into the world, is at once familiar but altogether very different and the skill is in the character motivations leading to huge investment by the audience. The world they inhabit is, again, both familiar but different, with language, actions and desires making for a very watchable, compelling and enjoyable show.
With seven parts, the series is given room to breathe
The Blu-ray set from RLJ Entertainment and the BBC is both excellent and frustrating; the picture is only 1080i, but is incredibly detailed, well coloured and has strong blacks (excluding a few very rare blips) while the sound is rich, well layered and contains good effects but is only 2.0 stereo! (Why?) The extras package is brief but entertaining and kudos for including something. With just a wee bit of tweaking this set could have been a real winner, even the packaging is a copy of the DVD, however, what we have is still worth investing in.
You can buy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.00
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