Potentially good news for Downton Abbey fans…Julian Fellowes, the screenwriter, is also working on a film script.
…as luck would have it, they are one and the same. Fellowes has allegedly taken over from Christopher Hampton as writer of the Jonathan Strange screenplay. At least, several years ago, this happened. I am skeptical as to whether the project is still in the works or not.
If you have never read/heard of this book, let me take a moment, or a few, to explain to you why it’s one of the most entertaining books written in the last twenty years. It came out in 2004, and I was totally sold on it when a bookstore owner, brandishing the huge hardcover tome (now available in a much more manageable paperback) said it was like “Harry Potter, if it were written by Jane Austen”. I can’t think of a more perfect description, or one more likely to appeal to me.
The novel is an incredibly rich, detailed story of two magicians in Victorian England, who undertake the task of bringing the highly-respected practice of Magic back to the kingdom. There are dark hallways, sinister gentlemen, enchanted mirrors, witty exchanges, mystical forests, faeries, dreary midnight balls, plenty of drawing room banter, and a romanticized London as backdrop for the whole delightful story. There are even pseudo-historical footnotes to further explain the intricately imagined “history of magic” and its practice in England. If there is one quirky addition to books that I like as much as footnotes (some might find them gimmicky; I love the sense of backstory), it’s the intentional use of archaic spellings – connexion, chuse and the like. Which Clarke also does. How. Cool. Again, if you find this gimmicky I apologize. The book reads like one of Austen’s 19th century social commentaries, and nearly manages to convince you that magicians really were once a part of English high society (wait, weren’t they?). I especially love how Clarke has both fictional AND real historical figures waltzing in and out of the story (the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, Lord Byron and the like). It’s fantastically dark and vivid, lush and satisfying, with great Dickensian caricatures throughout. Seriously, so many nods to great authors.
Don’t be put off by the 782 pages. You will wish there were more. Read it. Buy it. Love it. If there’s one book I can’t recommend highly enough, it’s this one.
And since Downton Abbey is currently my favourite TV show – I’m always up for a good scandalous British period drama and some Maggie Smith – and I’m especially fond of the writing and the characters, I can only hope Clarke’s story would be in good hands. If it ever comes to fruition. If it isn’t a dead project. If it hasn’t already been scrapped. I would so love to see this story onscreen (despite the inevitable disappointment of an adaptation of a nearly 800-page book), yet I have my doubts about it happening since there appear to be no recent articles or updates on the internet as to the film’s progress. There are a lot of “if’s”.
But, I make no excuses for taking an opportunity to gush about this book. Read it.
Now if only Clarke would hurry up and finish her sequel.