Who should the BBC cast in its “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” mini-series?

Book critics would like to see Ben Whishaw or perhaps Tilda Swinton play a male magician

Topics: BBC, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Tilda Swinton, ben whishaw, ian holm, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, sci-fi, Fantasy,

Earlier this week, the BBC and BBC America announced an addition to its sci-fi and fantasy line-up: a mini-series television adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s magical novel, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” The seven one-hour episides will air in 2014.

From the New York Times:

The BBC said its “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” mini-series would be presented in seven hour-long installments, adapted by Peter Harness (a screenwriter and playwright whose credits include “Wallander” and “Is Anybody There?”) and directed by Toby Haynes (“Doctor Who,” “Sherlock”). BBC America said it would show the mini-series during its Supernatural Saturday programming block, which includes science-fiction and fantasy-themed shows like “Doctor Who” and “Orphan Black.”

Casting decisions have not yet been announced, so the role of magicians Gilbert Norrell and his student, Jonathan Strange, are still up for grabs. Salon reached out to some of our What To Read book critics for casting suggestions via email:

From Ron Charles, fiction editor at the Washington Post:

How about Kenneth Branagh as Mr Norrell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Jonathan Strange?

These suggestions should make it clear why I summarize the plots of novels for a living instead of working in Hollywood …

From Lev Grossman, book critic for Time Magazine:



As Jonathan Strange: Ben Whishaw. I know he’s supposed to be tall, and his hair is supposed to be red, or reddish. But this isn’t a job for Rupert Grint, and Benedict Cumberbatch, much as I love him, is a touch too old. Whishaw has the necessary charm and good looks and most important, that air of bemused intelligence.

As Mr. Norrell: Ian Holm. He walks that line between likeable and irascible very well in the Tolkien movies. Also, he looks a lot like Mr. Norrell.

The best suggestion, perhaps, from from Grossman by way of an online commenter:

Someone online suggested they cast Tilda Swinton as the gentleman with the thistle-down hair. After that, I can’t imagine anybody else.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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