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Monday, 9 December 2019

REVIEW: His Dark Materials continues to impress.


Whilst eating, Lyra witnesses one of her fellow captives being taken away and it soon becomes apparent that this is a regular occurrence and one that Lyra begins to wonder whether she will soon be subjected to the same as she is measured and photographed by agents of the Magisterium. Whilst being measured, Lyra learns that every time a child is taken a roll call is announced; conversing with Roger she organises a snowball fight as she is determined to create a distraction in order that she and Roger might escape and make their way back to the Gyptians.

Writer Jack Thorne is aware that the best way to ensure that we remember how close Lyra and Roger are is to throw them into a situation that not only tests their resolution but also their confidence in one another. Thorne understands how to deal with characters and their deep friendship and the way he writes the initial meeting between Lyra and Roger after being separated for so long is done with true flair and believability; one that actors Dafne Keen and Lewin Lloyd portray brilliantly.

During their escape attempt, Lyra and Roger discover the captive daemons of children who had been experimented on by the Magisterium and separated, like Billy Costa. Whilst Lyra plots her escape, the agents of the Magisterium Dr Cooper (Lia Williams) and Dr Rendal (Amit Shah) discuss not only how they can convince Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) that they are doing all they can to finally find the answer of removing sin from all but also that she should not interfere in their activities.

As Mrs Coulter arrives, Lyra realises that she has to hide herself from her mother. Getting help from the other children, Lyra hides herself. This sequence is well realised and the collaboration between Thorne’s writing, Keen’s performance, Euros Lyn’s direction and composer Lorne Balfe’s score ensures that the scene is tense and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

As Lyra does her best to avoid her mother and plan her escape, the Gyptians, Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) and Iorek (Joe Tandberg) scale the treacherous terrain outside Bolvangar, preparing themselves for the task of storming it and freeing the children. However, as Lyra is planning for her escape, she is called by the staff of the institute to take her to the separation chamber to remove her from her daemon Pan (Kit Connor). Realising that her only way out is to get her mother’s help, Lyra reveals herself to her. After speaking with her mother, Lyra uses the opportunity to escape, convincing Roger and the other inmates to help her. As Bolvangar descends into chaos, the Gyptians arrive to lend support to Lyra’s insurrection and free the children – however, Mrs Coulter escapes.


Meanwhile Will Parry (Amir Wilson) begins to investigate more about his father, Colonel John Parry (Andrew Scott) and the expedition that allegedly took his life but in fact lead him to Lyra’s world.

As everything seems to settle down and Lyra and Lee journey further north, they are attacked by Cliff Gulls and Lyra seemingly falls from Lee’s balloon to an uncertain fate…

As the first series of His Dark Materials comes closer to its conclusion this episode closes one storyline in particular; that of the children being at the mercy of the Gobblers and being experimented on by Mrs Coulter and the agents of the Magisterium. This has been the backbone of a great deal of the story so far and Jack Thorne ensures that its conclusion is not only satisfying but done quickly and effectively. Whilst the previous episode crossed back and forth between Lyra’s world and that of Will Parry, the focus is very much on Lyra in this episode. Whilst we do get glimpses of what the others are doing it is important that the main focus is on Lyra, trapped in Balvangar as this allows us to not only empathise with the cramped conditions in which Lyra and the other inmates find themselves but also to emphasise the danger in which she is in. Though it is understandable why we are shown what the Gyptians and Will Parry are doing whilst Lyra is in Balvangar they do break the flow of the story somewhat and isn’t really necessary. Otherwise, the almost gothic horror of Balvangar is key to the episode’s success and allows it to engage and terrify its viewers.

Due to the nature of the episode, we don’t see much of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Lee Scoresby, however, the scenes that he is in once again prove why he is excellent in the series; he instantly shifts from relaxed and funny to serious and mindful of the danger he and Lyra are in. It is a credit to Miranda that even with a small amount of screen time he can not only make the character his own but steal a section of the spotlight for himself.

The two best performances in the episode, however, are Dafne Keen’s Lyra and Ruth Wilson’s Mrs Coulter. Throughout the episode Keen demonstrates Lyra’s intelligence and determination, not just when she is organising the snowball fight at the start of the episode but also her ability to get information from the Doctors without seeming in the least bit suspicious. Yet it is the scene in which Lyra and Mrs Coulter confront one another after Lyra is nearly separated from her daemon that is the best scene in the episode.

Both actors are on top form with Keen demonstrating Lyra’s inner anger that her mother is responsible for the death of her friend Billy Costa whilst Wilson exudes calm and determination to convince her daughter that she is right and that all she is doing is to help people; it is this contrast that it is at the core of the episode, Lyra’s belief in free will versus Mrs Coulter’s authoritarian belief that she knows best and she is only doing what is right.

The latest episode of His Dark Materials is another stirring instalment in the continuing drama and proof that Philip Pullman’s work is still able to capture imaginations just as vividly now as it did when the books first appeared. It is a truly compelling and wonderous fantasy drama that is sure to keep its audience hooked until the very end.

 Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor

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

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