When I watched the first two episodes of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" a few days ago, I ranted about the BBC possibly having achieved perfection. I'm now required to admit this may have been hyperbole, although I believed it at the time. Ultimately, the series is very good, although I did find some flaws. Please see my previous post for a basic plot description. Some details I thought were important were lost on the way from the book to the screen (the book is just shy of 800 pages in trade paperback and small print - even seven hours isn't enough to get everything), but - especially for those not familiar with the book - it's a very fine piece of work indeed.
These are the complaints of a person too enamoured of the book to actually let it go. I know I'm being silly, but can't quite let it go. I always feel compelled to say this: SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen the series or read the book, my enumeration of the errors of the series will give away some significant plot points - stop reading now.
- Jonathan and Arabella. This I noticed vaguely between the first and second episodes, but I dismissed it as too minor to concern me. In hindsight it's not huge, but I think they should have spent a bit more time on it. In the first episode, we see Jonathan about to propose to Arabella - but she cuts him off, which isn't very promising. In the second episode, they're married. Wait, what? What's been lost from the book is the establishment of their relationship: while Jonathan is a bit of a drinker, a bit dissipated, he's a good and intelligent man. Arabella is intelligent and likeable, and they're very well suited to each other. As a result of us not seeing their courtship, the troubles they go through as the series progresses have less emotional weight because we don't know the strength of their relationship. They're shown to have a good relationship throughout so it isn't disastrous, but I thought it could have been played better.
- The Raven King. In the book, The Raven King is huge. A lot of people talk about him, and it's firmly established that he was both an incredibly powerful magician as well as a good king. In the TV series, all we see is Jonathan with a book called A Children's History of the Raven King, but whenever he mentions the Raven King Norrell dismisses it. So it seems Jonathan is obsessed with something unimportant when in fact it's Norrell who's trying to ignore a person of great power because he doesn't like "old-fashioned magic." This significantly weakens The Raven King's return, making it seem less important.
- The Strength and Death of The Man With the Thistledown Hair. The Man With the Thistledown Hair is a fairy. He's very, very old, very unpleasant, and incredibly powerful. Norrell and Strange together couldn't possibly have defeated him (and it becomes inevitable that they must face him). Which is why the return of the Raven King is so important. But Thistledown's strength is only sort of established. His death is also problematic, because Clarke's version had the entire country of England give all of its power to "The Nameless Slave" (the country is deceived for a short time into thinking Steven is in fact The Raven King because both of them are "The Nameless Slave"). This would have been awfully hard to portray, so they settled for Stephen getting really powerful and embedding Thistledown in a tree. I didn't think it was a great rework (although I have no better answer).