Dec 3 2012 1:30pm

Let’s Cast Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell!

Let’s cast the Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell BBC mini-series!

Now that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has been officially pegged for a BBC mini-series, it’s the most important time of all—the time where we all have to weigh in with our opinions about who out there are best suited to the roles offered by such a superb novel.

Note: I should mention that I have a tendency to cast those who I think are likely to be able to play the roles. So while I might make mention of some who are too far into Movieland to play, I will make my top selections based on people who I think are likely to participate in a BBC drama. (That means no Americans at all.) So here are some choices for several of the key characters....


The Gentleman With Thistle-Down Hair — David Tennant

Were he a bit younger, I might peg the Tenth Doctor for Jonathan Strange himself, but, frankly, I think he’d have more fun playing the antagonistic fairy. Tennant is well-capable of showcasing other-worldly qualities, and would be able to make us like the man without forgetting just how dangerous he truly is. No one could say no to that face, anyway. And then we’d get to watch him dance!


Lady Pole — Jessica Brown Findlay

Someone had to come from the Downton Abbey pool, and while there are probably several ladies from that cast who could play Lady Pole, I point the finger at Lady Sybil Crawley. I would love to watch Findlay spend her time in a daze as she tries to explain to friends where she disappears to each and every night. She’s got those huge eyes and just the right touch of innocence that the part will require at the beginning.


Stephen Black — Paterson Joseph

Paterson Joseph is awesome. He has already been on Doctor Who, and played none other than the Marquis de Carabas in the television version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. And those who saw Tom Hiddleston play Henry V in the Hollow Crown series also got treated to Joseph’s stellar portrayal of the Duke of York. He’d be lovely as Stephen Black, exactly the sort of person who could say no to the Gentleman With Thistle-Down Hair’s nonsense. Barring him, there’s Adetomiwa Edun, who played Gwen’s brother Elyan on Merlin (if we were going younger with the character).


Childermass — Arthur Darvill

Arthur Darvill has spent the last few years on television proving that he is always the most sensible man in any room. As Rory Williams, he was at the beck and call of his wife Amy—here, he could be at the beck and call of persnickety Mr Norrell. And what a relationship that would be.... Darvill has just the right sort of sly smarts to make him a great pick for Childermass. Another good choice might be Billy Boyd, if he’s feeling up for a second jaunt into fantasy territory. Poor Pippin had to deal with Denethor, after all, so Norrell would be a cake walk for him.


Arabella — Liz White

If you’ve seen the original BBC version of Life On Mars, chances are you fell a bit in love with Sam Tyler’s crush, WPC Annie Cartwright. She was charming, loving, and so understanding of Sam’s crazy that at times it was painful to watch. And that was all due to Liz White. Have her put on a posher accent and pin up her hair: instant Arabella. I would lose my mind if she got to play this part. If the BBC chooses to go the colorblind casting route (which is happily a part of their policy, period piece or no) Lenora Crichlow, also might make a lovely choice.


Mr Norrell — John Hurt

John Hurt seems willing to take on every mostly-decent project whispered in his ear, so I am hoping that if someone offered him this part, he would take a mad dive for it. I figure that Mr Norrell (as Portia Rosenberg’s illustrations show) should have a very different physical appearance from Strange who is undoubtedly tall and lanky, so he fits the bill appearance-wise. And Hurt is basically perfect in any role he assumes. He has an uncanny ability to make the unreal utterly real, which is exactly what you need for the scholarly old magician. He is the first person in the story to show us magic, after all. It’ll be like Ollivander, only meaner and miserly.


Jonathan Strange — Laurence Fox

I can sense people shouting already, but hear me out. In a perfect world, it would probably be Benedict Cumberbatch playing this singular role, but they can’t even get Benedict back to start shooting Sherlock on schedule, so I don’t hold out any hope for him having free time. Colin Morgan wouldn’t be a bad choice either, but he’s still a bit too young, and now that Merlin’s over he’s probably eager to never do magic again. Dye Laurence Fox’s hair the right color, and he has a fantastic look for Strange. He’s a practical giant at 6’3", and then he’s got those cheekbones, the jawline. And he is an excellent actor with a great deal of intensity to him, which is something that Jonathan Strange must have in spades. It would be a different sort of role for Fox, which is one of the reasons why I’d love to see him have a go at it. Of course if he’s going to be Strange, I supposed I should have picked Billie Piper for Arabella, seeing as their married. But that would be way too many Who actors in the top picks, so there you have it.


Okay, who are your picks? Dream cast or realistic cast, just have at it! And maybe you can all answer the most important question—who is going to play the Duke of Wellington? (My brain instantly went to Mark Strong for some reason.)

Emily Asher-Perrin totally has a copy of JS&MN with the white cover and black raven. It's so beautiful. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Jessica Reisman
1. jwynne
I think Fox is a perfect choice for the role of Jonathan.
2. copperbird
Jim Broadbent for Norrell.
3. Amy Lewis
Most of these are Spot On! Especially Lawrence Fox. Genius. But my vote for Arabella is Carey Mulligan. And Arthur Darvill doesn't have the sinister gravitas for Childermass. My vote? Richard E. Grant. And a bit of guerrilla casting for Vinculus: Christopher Lee.
4. ellen_fremedon
Amy, if you get a chance, try to catch the live-filmed cinema version of the Globe production of "Doctor Faustus." Arthur Darvill plays Mephistopheles in it, and he has sinister gravitas in spades.
Andrew Willett
5. AndrewWillett
Tilda Swinton for the Gentleman with Thistle-Down Hair. Please please please.
Emily Asher-Perrin
6. EmilyAP
@Amy Lewis - I actually thought of Carey Mulligan! But she seems to be firmly planted in film lately, which is why she didn't make my ultimate cut. I like the idea of Richard E. Grant for sure, though as ellen_fremedon pointed out, Arthur Darvill definitely proved he could play sinister in Doctor Faustus (which is actually where that above picture of him comes from). And always yes to Christopher Lee! Always.

@AndrewWillett - Tilda Swinton for EVERYTHING. Please.
8. charming.quark
But who for the Raven King?
9. JillRedhand
Maybe I've been too influenced by The Hollow Crown from this summer, but all I can think of is Clemence Poesy for Lady Pole, Ben Whishaw for the Gentleman, and Tom Hiddleston for Jonathan Strange, although that one is clearly a long shot. Michael Gambon can't be too impossible for Mr. Norrell, can he? I picture him doing a perfect mix between his hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse in Emma, and his spiteful Kazran in Doctor Who.

I agree, Patterson Joseph for Stephen Black, no further discussion required.
Doc Tobin
10. thegooddoctor
when i read the book, i always imagined hugh jackman as jonathan strange.
11. a1ay
And maybe you can all answer the most important question—who is going to play the Duke of Wellington? (My brain instantly went to Mark Strong for some reason.)

Well, a younger version of Charles Dance would be ideal, but he's unavailable. (Wellington in the Peninsula was around 40.)

Ian Holm as Mr Norrell?

Christopher Lee would be great as Vinculus, but he may be too old - it's quite a physical role...
12. pCiaran
What about Mark Gatiss as Drawlight -

Perfect for that sense of smarmy/nasty vibe
14. pCiaran
And on the Sherlock theme - Benedict Cumberbatch as Byron (if Byron makes the cut)
15. Baronjonah
Throwing this out there:
Jonathan Strange: Rupert Grint. (He'll be 25 yrs old by the time this starts rolling. He'd be on the young end, but he's got the red hair, and the slightly awkward look.

Here's a couple other Jonathan Stranges:
Robert Sheehan of Misfits.
Ioan Gruffudd (Mr. Fantastic)

ThistleDown Hair: Paul Bettany

Stephen Black: Idris Elba (He did Luther...why not this?)

Mr. Norrell: What if we dusted off Michael Palin? Come on, that'd be pretty great.
16. JPark
Guy Pearce for Childermass, if he'd do it.
17. Ian B. Miller
I think Chiwitel Eijiofer would be perfect as Stephen Black.

I think he might be a bit old (and precomitted), but Jonny Lee Miller would make a lovely Jonathan, and Michael Gambon could do a great Norrell.
18. lainey
JJ Feild for Strange.
Rosamund Pike for Emma Pole?

@pCiaran: I agree with that Mark Gatiss/Drawlight idea, very fitting.
19. chocolatedonut
I say Timothy Spall for Drawlight. And I like David Tennant as the man with thistle-down hair. I don't know about anyone too old for Norrell. I just don't picture him as a particularly old person.
20. lainey
Raven King/John Uskglass: um....Kit Harington or Richard Armitage.
I forget how old John Uskglass should look like but it probably doesn't matter since he's part faerie anyway.
21. ras740
My dad and I always play this game! These are our most recent thoughts:
Jonathan Strange - Damian Lewis

Gentelman with the Thistle Down Hair - David Tennant or Bill Nighy (depending if you want an older or younger character)

Childermass - Toby Stephens

Stephen Black - Idris Elba

Vinculus - Russell Brand

Mr. Norrell - Alun Armstrong

Lady Pole - Sophia Myles

John Segundus - Hugh Bonneville
22. Jon Lycett-Smith
I'm going to ignore who may be available and just post who I see as the best fit for each part...

Jonathan Strange - Benedict Cumberbatch or Damian Lewis

Gentleman with the Thistle Down Hair - Bill Nighy (I really like the Tilda Swinton suggestion too)

Lascelles - Mark Strong

Drawlight - Andy Serkis

Childermass - Ray Winston

Stephen Black - Paterson Joseph

Vinculus - Robert Carlyle

Mr. Norrell - Ben Kingsley

Lady Pole - Sophia Myles

Arabella Strange - Karen Gillan

John Segundus - Jeremy Northam
23. Jon Lycett-Smith
Actually, Childermass could be a perfect role for Ian McShane.
24. frichadaran
Jonathan Strange - Benedict Cumberbatch
Arabelle Strange - Rachel Weisz
Mr. Norrell - Ian Holm
Childremass - Arthur Darvill
Gentleman with the thistle-down hair - David Tennant or Tilda Swinton
Lascelles - Mark Gatiss
John Segundus - James MacAvoy
Walter Pole - Bill Nighy
Duke of Wellington - Tom Wilkinson
Vinculus - Hugh Laurie
John Murray - Michael Gambon
25. frichadaran
Mrs. Brandy - Jennifer Ehle
26. harperbrandy
Drawlight - Timothy Spall
Childermass - Arthur Darvill
Lascelles - Ben Willbond
27. Blake Fraina
Well, I've come a bit late to this party but, of the one's I know, I think your cast of actors is none too shabby. I always felt that John Hurt was the only one for Mr. Norrell, although I suppose he's getting a bit long in the tooth. I think someone else mentioned Chiwetel Ejiofor for Stephen Black? Maybe Kele Okereke from Bloc Party, if he wants to make a try at acting?

David Tenanant is PERFECT for the Man with the Thistle Down Hair! But whoever said Paul Bettany, that's not too bad either (if you picture that albino he played).

For Strange - At one time I thought Clive Owen might work. Now, I'm casting my lot in with the Cumberbitches. He does have a prior working relationship with the screenwriter, right?

Lastly, while I realized toward the end of the novel that the character was actually a much younger man than this, I kept picturing David Bradley (Filch in the Harry Potter films) as Childermas. Might that work?

Well, I'm 100% stoked about this series and am now going to go back up and read through all the suggestions more carefully.
28. Blake Fraina
Me again.

If Norrell isn't necessarily an old man (which I don't think he necessarily is)...what about Tom Hollander?
29. Julie Komenda
David Bowie as um, anybody. Philip Glenister as Mr. Norrell. Hugh Laurie as the Raven King...
30. Dave Cornell
I always pictured Anthony Hopkins as Norell. I can see his eyes light up with fear and contempt as he spouts out, "He is MYSTICAL!"
Childermass - Gary Oldman
Strange - The instant I saw the first minute of Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock I jumped out of my seat exclaiming he had to play Strange. But the scheduling thing is very real. Rupert Grint would be too funny to take seriously, though I have no doubt he'd kill it. Especially the sarcastic tones of Strange and the battlefield "prowess".
31. Stu Zakaa
Dye his hair a bit... Matthew Macfayden for Jonathan Strange
32. Analriko
My first choise for Norrell was Ian Holm, but than, when I saw name of the screenwriter I said what about Kenneth Branagh?
And for Strange..hmm..Damian Lewis is too old for this...sorry...and most of you think about him just because he has red hair. Agai-first choise Benedict Cumberbatch, second choise Rupert Friend?
33. Analriko
See? This is the perfect and the only one Strange!
34. p reid
OK! I have many ideas here, with some stolen from previous posts.
Childermas- Ben Wishaw or Richard Armitage, or Andy Serkis. He has to be angular and sardonic.
Thistledown hair - def David Tennant or tilda Swindon.
Mr norrell- John hurt good, what about Anthony sher?
Rosamund pike could play either of the two enchanted ladies.
Mr honeyfoot- Hugh Bonneville!
Vinculus has to be lean and angular, like Childermas, so Andy serkis, Ben wishaw, Richard Carlyle.
w light has to be tom Hollander, and Lascelles has to be Richard e grant
Jonathan Strange - Cumberbatch excellent, or how about James McAvoy, or Matthew McFadyen
Christopher Eccl stone for Wellington or perhaps Childermas
And then, John Sim needs a part, and he could even be Strange, or certainly Childermas or Vinculus
I agree with Richard Armitage as Raven King
35. Clue
Damian Lewis = Jonathan Strange
36. beerofthedark
Derek Jacobi = Mr Norrell ftw.
Vicki Smith
37. EclecticMayhem
Mr Norrell - Anton Lesser (Google him! Seriously he's absolutely the right man for the part.)

Lascelles/Lord Wellington - Peter Serafinowicz

Much as I love Patterson Joseph I really want Chiwetel Ejiofor to play Stephen Black

After watching Benedict Cumberbatch play so many repressed people I'd really like to see him cut loose and play someone as flighty and unpredictable as The Man with the Thistle Down Hair. He has an 'otherwordliness' about him that would suit the faerie but I'd also be happy with him as Jonathan Strange.
Emma McCann
38. ejmccann
Mr Norrell - Bob Balaban
Jonathan Strange - Jack Davenport
Childermass - Michael Wincott
Drawlight - Tom Hollander
The Gentleman - Julian Rhind Tutt
39. Cmill
Timothy Spall is exactly who I pictured as Mr. Drawlight.
40. Cheek
I've always imagined the Raven King to look like Ben Barnes - someone pale, slightly androgynous and with dark features. And I think I would die if Guy Pearce got to play Childermass!

Others include:

Strange - Domhnall Gleeson
Segundus - Matthew Macfayden
Vinculus - Hugh Laurie or Jason Isaacs
Norrell - Jim Broadbent

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