Madness and Grief in “The Black Tower”


“The Black Tower,” episode six of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell finds Jonathan in Venice. Having sent his book off to the publisher and escaped from an English jail by the simple expedient of stepping through a puddle, Strange is now free to keep looking for a way to get his wife back. He has already realized that Mr Norrell made use of Fairy help to bring Lady Pole back from the dead and is determined to do the same for Arabella. The trouble is, he cannot see fairies when he summons them—but he knows that mad King George saw one. Therefore, he decides to drive himself mad. Meanwhile, Mr Norrell is planning on making sure no one reads Jonathan’s book, and Lady Pole is doing her best to tell everyone what has happened to her.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell is only improving as it moves forward toward the end. The emotional intensity is increasing, and the actors are every bit ready for the task. Eddie Marsan as Norrell has to portray an essential introvert who is generally selfish, yet who has moments of real feeling—Jonathan was/is his friend, after all. And there is a book involved. Bertie Carvel, meanwhile, is playing Strange, a man desperate enough to drive himself mad. This is also the episode with the first real interaction between Stephen and Vinculus, and Paul Kaye and Ariyon Bakare show the unexpected connection between the two.

The visual element also remains strong. Take a look at the street in the opening scene there. It looks battered, lived in, and used, and there are plenty of people in the background going about their business. The fantastic scenes in here have been incredible, don’t get me wrong—I absolutely love the ballroom—but it’s the detail put into the daily life scenes that impresses me most. Ordinary street and house scenes represent the places we live in, the places where we expect there to be multiple textures, scuff marks, and items of different ages.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is definitely going to be a keeper.


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