Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell coming to the BBC

News Nick Horton 30 Nov 2012 - 09:21

The BBC has announced an ambitious fantasy adaptation of Susanna Clarke's magnificent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell...

BBC One has announced it's to make a six-part adaptation of the magnificent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, directed by Doctor Who & Sherlock alumni Toby Haynes.

For those unfamiliar with the book, it's a sweeping fantasy novel set during the Napoleonic Wars where two magicians have emerged in Britain. As well as telling the story of their rivalry, it also details an amazing alternate history where the North of England was the dominion of a magical overlord known as the Raven King, and pulls in many notable historical characters.

If you've never read it, now's the perfect time as it's a real winter reader - you'll easily get lost in the amazing world Susanna Clarke creates.

Rumoured as a film adaptation for years, the sheer scale of the novel and number of effects needed may be somewhat daunting, but Toby Haynes has a strong track record at succeeding with ambitious material, having been responsible for Doctor Who's The Pandorica Opens/Big Bang two-parter, and the Sherlock series two finale The Reichenbach Fall. Adapting Clarke's book will be writer Peter Harness, who penned the third series of Wallander.

No air date has yet been announced, and casting news must surely follow in the near future. Our picks for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? How about, respectively, Damian Lewis and Derek Jacobi?


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I'll only believe it when I see it - given that New Line commissioned two screenplays for a film adaptation before the rights fell out of use, re-purchased by Amber Entertainment (formed by two former execs from New Line) with nothing happening for at least four years and only rumours of possible TV adaptation - you can understand I am somewhat suspicious.

If this really is happening I am delighted and over the moon for Colin Greenland and Susanna Clarke - they deserve to see this fine book made by the BBC and handled by somebody as good as Toby.

Also - forgot the bloody FX - it's first and foremost a period piece about people (human and sidhe) and the actions they choose to take. The fact it involves magic (which doesn't happen THAT often) is almost coincidental.

Visually this could be made stunning when it comes to production design (and I sincerely hope that the BBC puts their finest production designers on this one), but as somebody who has spent six years working in visual effects - DO NOT make the effects the star of the show. JS&MN is not about effects.

I agree whole-heartedly. It is one of my favourite ever books, and the fact that it seems to fly by despite its hefty size is a testament to the world and its inhabitants. I think the BBC will nail the production design, they have a proven track record when it comes to that.

I mention the effects as an potential obstacle, and while the adaptation should as you rightly point out be about the characters, it is a fact that on a piece such as this they will already be thinking about the VFX now, way before the physical world assembles.

This and Pratchett's The Watch has made my century. We have Danny Cohen to thank for this and I am for one very grateful to him.

I thought the book was really boring, but a lot of people seem to like it.Maybe the show will be better...

Excellent news! I always thought this would be an HBO series (they would have the budget to do the period detail, many sets and effects justice) but I have faith in the BBC and the writer/director to do a good job. As for the cast - I think Damien Lewis might be a little too old for the role as in the book Jonathan Strange is in his early thirties (correct me if I'm wrong). Derek Jacobi would be great though! Who could play the Gentleman with the thistledown hair? Perhaps Andrew Scott, who played Moriarty in Sherlock?

My other thought was Eddie Redmayne?

Ah yes! He does have an 'ironic face'.

Eddie Redmayne could be great as Strange (if Lewis were younger, I'd vote for him. And as he's doing Homeland he might not be available). Derek Jacobi would be awsome (he's always awsome)!. And it might be weird, but I always thought of Paul Bettany when imagining the Gentelman with the thistledown hair…

My Jonathan Strange is and always will be Benedict Cumberbatch, but I'm afraid he's too connected with Sherlock to be cast as another main character of BBC series (although BBC has in fact 12 actors playing in every TV series, doesn't it? ;) ) Derek Jacobi as Mr Norrell – yes, please! I don’t know who could play the Gentleman with Thistledown Hair, but definitely not Andrew Scott. If only David Bowie was younger…

I wouldn't entirely rule Cumberbatch out - you never know with the BBC - and yes, I'd love to see Jacobi involved too.

Completely agree. Next to the Da Vinci Code as the biggest waste of eyesight ever.

Damian Lewis as Jonathan Strange, Ian Holm as Mr. Norrell, Benedict Cumberbatch as Gentleman with Thistledown Hair. Call the casting director!

Apparently I'm not the only one, but: busy-bee Benedict Cumberbatch (ginger, long-faced, gentlemanly, and mildly insane: perfect!) for Jonathan Strange, end of. And maybe The Hour's Anton Lesser or, yes, the king Derek Jacobi for Norrell. Can we throw Iain Glen in, maybe as Wellington?

Ian Glen could be a perfect lord Pole for me. And yay for supporting me in "Cumberbatching" Strange! :D

They had better not do a "dirk gently" on it.

Derek Jacobi--what a fantastic casting choice for Mr Norrell.

I think Strange could be played by any number of actors--it would be great to see someone young and relatively unknown in the role. I don't think Cumberbatch needs another lead role in a BBC show, although I have to admit he'd make a pretty great Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair.

Benedict Cumberbatch would have to be my pick for Strange. So excited this is finally happening!

When reading this I pictured Richard Coyle as Strange and Donald Sumpter as Norrell

There's definitely some great stuff to look forward to and from the BBC too!

I'd love it if they got Tom Hiddleston as Strange. My preferred Norrell is Toby Jones. The only other character that I have extremely strong opinions on is my desire to see Idris Elba play Stephen Black.

Arthur Darvill for Jonathan Strange. Haynes has already worked with him.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian Holm!! Perfect!

arabella strange should be molly parker. :)

I totally agree with you. I saw Iam Holm as Mr. Norrell from the first moment I read him. Damian Lewis from Homeland? I don´t see it, he's too old now by Strange. Jonathan is in his earlier 30's. I don´t know, maybe Tom Hiddleston. And Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect Gentleman with Thistledown Hair, I don´t see anyone else for that role.

Maybe Reupert Friend for Jonathan Strange!!!
But I do really hope this news is for real and we get a Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell alive by the BBC... I love that book.

There has always been only one actor in my mind who would be Strange - Adrien Brody

Matthew Macfayden as Jonathan Strange

Great call on the casting, the audiobook is also excellent by the way

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