Martin Carr reviews the second episode of His Dark Materials…
Episode two brings a subtle cruelty and darkness into this world of awe inspiring airships, dingy basement dormitories and high class skulduggery. As Lyra goes up in the world character intentions are implied through action, gesture and misdirection. From attic enclave to polished marble floors and penthouse living Mrs Coulter is instrumental in everything that follows.
Ruth Wilson brings layers to Coulter here which hint at a malevolence constantly kept in check. Although not the personification of Pullman’s creation she does a great deal with sustained glances and chuck away comments. It is here as she has people dangling like marionettes that the awkwardness comes through most strongly as both Lyra and Coulter clash. Violence, suppression and harassment are expressed via their daemons, who are given an emotional resonance through impressive photo realism and solid voice work.
Elsewhere the Romany community are banding together in an effort to recover their children. Economic and social differences are focused on once more as modes of transport, methods of infiltration and dialogue scenes are more forthright. These people lead simple uncluttered lives and have no agenda. This comes through in the sense of camaraderie which defines their relationships and builds audience empathy.
As a comparison any Magisterium exchanges either within its walls or between characters is clinical, cold and calculated. Their approach to information control is absolute while any transgressions are dealt with mercilessly. Lord Boreal who features heavily gives off an air of poised efficiency and Ariyon Bakare exudes threat without theatrics, matching Wilson’s Coulter in the cool detachment stakes. Meanwhile Lyra displays anti-authoritarian sentiments and a childlike innocence coupled with an inner strength.
There is a seamless quality in the exchanges between both Pan and Lyra which really makes you believe, while any pain inflicted on either makes a dramatic difference. It is still impressive how well Dafne Keen holds the screen against other actors and never once pushes the boundaries of believability. Production designer Joel Collins has added to this by weaving together various elements of the real or imagined to add depth, mystery and a sense of danger. Just beyond the horizon, hidden from prying eyes and tantalisingly out of reach other worlds exist separated by gossamer threads of fragile reality. This is the world as Philip Pullman would have us experience it filled with clashing ideologies, warring factions and perpetual unrest.
Knowledge is controlled, thinking restricted and original opinion discouraged. Contemporary topics are open for interpretation and never has such a story been more relevant. Look beyond the magic, majesty and mystery of this kids own adventure and note those shades of grey which Thorne has worked in. If television or film chooses merely to entertain rather than inform and enlighten then it fails to enrich or broaden our understanding. Even at this early stage it is clear where His Dark Materials stands on this sentiment.