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.)