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Sunday, 17 November 2019

REVIEW: “His Dark Materials’ twists ensure the audience continues to be intrigued


Resuming the story from the previous episode’s cliff hanger in which Lyra (Dafne Keen), is wandering the streets of London after her discovery that Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is behind the Gobblers who snatched her friend Roger and is similarly taken by the nefarious gang, we see Lyra trapped in the back of one of the Gobblers vans’. However, before she can meet the same fate as Roger, she is rescued by the Gyptians who take her back to Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) who is searching for her son Billy (Tyler Howitt). The Gyptians convince Lyra that the best way for them to find the missing children is if they team up. Through interrogating one of the Gobblers who kidnapped Lyra they learn that the children are being taken to the North – where nobody would look for them.

Meanwhile, Mrs Coulter uses the full force of the Magisterium to raid Jordan College in an attempt to locate Lyra. Interrogating the Master of the College (Clarke Peters), Coulter discovers that Lyra isn’t there but that she is in possession of an alethiometer. Worried at how this might affect her plans, Mrs Coulter and Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) become further involved not only in the investigation to find where Lyra is but also in learning more about Asriel (James McAvoy) and Grumman (Andrew Scott)’s study of multiple worlds. Lord Boreal learns that Grumman is not, in fact, from his world but from our own and that he is real name is Colonel John Parry.

The revelation that  someone from our world had already travelled into the universe of His Dark Materials prior to Boreal’s trip is cleverly and convincingly done; it allows the audience to not only enjoy a fantastic twist but also understand the wider universe – that the divides between our world and the world we are seeing on our screens is very thin. Writer Jack Thorne’s clever use of the reveal also allows us to almost believe it is possible for us to go from one world to another which makes the series seem more real somehow.

The Magisterium intercept the Gyptians in an attempt to find Lyra but are ultimately unsuccessful. Angry at the fact that she is forced to go on the run, Lyra has a confrontation with Ma Costa who reveals that Mrs Coulter is her mother. This convinces her that she must stop her mother and ensure that the children are freed no matter what the stakes are. Lyra convinces the Gyptians that they must carry on fighting for if they do not, neither will Mrs Coulter and they will never see their children again.


Both Lyra’s discovery of who her mother is and her decision to speak up during the Gyptians meeting to convince them to go and find the missing children is presented as a turning point for both her as a character and for the story. Lyra realises that, despite the upsetting circumstances that she finds herself in, she must step up to the plate and put her own feelings aside in order to find Roger. It is a powerful and profound moment that is a sign of Lyra’s developing character arc.

Tony Costa and Benjamin (Simon Manyonda) attempt to find out more information on the Gobblers – however, Mrs Coulter intercepts them, with Benjamin sacrificing himself to ensure Tony’s escape. Tony takes with him information on where the children are being kept and this allows the Gyptians to set a course for them. However, using one of her Spy Flies, Mrs Coulter discovers where Lyra is.

As His Dark Materials hits its halfway point, you’d be forgiven for believing that the series was almost over. The amount of plot and backstory that has been produced in the first three episodes is enough for an entire series on its own, let alone first part of an ongoing series. Yet, because Philip Pullman’s books are so rich and Jack Thorne has a knack for crafting beautifully realistic worlds, it never seems as if there is too much to take in. Viewers have to pay attention, but the series never feels as if it is forcing you to – rather it is presenting an epic drama with a great scale that it is compelling you to watch. His Dark Materials, though packed with twists, never feels like an exhausting watch. Its adventurous pace rather than boring instead instils a sense of a thrill into its viewer and a desire to join in the adventure they are seeing on their screen.

The performances across the board are terrific. Ruth Wilson once again shines as the threatening Mrs Coulter. Her confrontation with the Master of the College is played with a brilliant understated scholastic disapproval by Clarke Peters. it is wonderfully rendered and shows off the full power of both characters and the ability their actors have to fully inhabit them. Coulter’s calm and calculating rage is perfectly portrayed by Wilson and she manages to be both intimidating and charming at the same time. There is a depth and breadth to her performance that makes it stand out as not simply one of the best in the series but one of the most outstanding performances in a drama this year.

Dafne Keen again impresses in her performance as Lyra. In this episode, Keen demonstrates both Lyra’s innocence and her growing resilience as a character. The scene in which Lyra and Ma Costa (Anne Marie Duff) have their confrontation in which it is revealed that Mrs Coulter is Lyra’s mother is excellently done and shows how much Keen is able to get into the part; the revelation clearly devastates her and it is to her credit that she is so convincing in the scene. Equally, she makes Lyra’s emotional turnaround and her decision to convince the Gyptians that they have to continue on their quest to find the missing children believable. Lyra understands that she must put her own feelings aside and do what is best for everyone.

The third episode of His Dark Materials again presses the plot along at an exciting and engaging pace that ensures the audience is not only desperate to find out what happens next but also to invest in what will happen to each of the main characters, even the seemingly malicious Mrs Coulter. It is a truly satirising series that just makes you crave more of it.

Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor

His Dark Materials Continues Sunday at 8.00pm on BBC One.

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