Liam Rudden: Strange case of the cliffhanger

Strange & Norrell. Picture: Matt Squire
Strange & Norrell. Picture: Matt Squire
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CLIFFHANGERS, that moment when the drama builds to a nail-biting climax... only to be stopped in its tracks by the words ‘To Be Continued!’

I miss cliff-hangers. Back before Betamax and VHS video recorders changed the face of TV viewing forever, the cliff-hanger needed to make an impact to ensure viewers would return seven days later to discover what happened next.

Now, of course, most shows are available on catch-up or as box sets, and watchable in one marathon session, which is how I viewed the excellent Mr Norrell & Jonathan Strange.

For those yet to discover the delights of what has been called ‘one of the BBC’s most ambitious and bold productions to date,’ Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is set in 1806.

Centuries have passed since practical magicians became the stuff of legend. However, two remain - the reclusive Mr Norrell, played by Eddie Marsan, and the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange, a debonair Bertie Carvel. When the former accidentally releases dark forces, so begins a dangerous battle between the two men.

Like all good costume drama the success of the series (available now from Acorn DVD) lies in the attention to period detail - in this case, juxtaposed with state-of-the-art special effects.

The leads, too, make it one to watch. There’s something positively mesmeric about Marsan. It’s something to do with the awkward physicality he brings to the role, which invests him with an other-worldliness, a fitting trait for a wizard and directly at odds with Carvel’s more dashing demeanour.

Strong supporting turns come from Marc Warren, Paul Kaye, Alice Englert and Brian Pettifer too.

Oh and it’s nice to see that the art of writing a cliff-hanger hasn’t been lost quite yet, albeit the wait between episodes is now just the click of a remote rather than a week-long trial.