Picking up from the previous episode, Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) arrive in London. Lyra, though overawed by London and her new surroundings, is not unaware of her motivation to travelling to London – to find her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd). Visiting the Arctic Institute, Mrs Coulter convinces Lyra to let her search for Roger and spare her ward from any danger.
Yet, Lyra becomes suspicious of Mrs Coulter when she discovers that Coulter’s daemon is locked in a room on its own; this is something Lyra cannot imagine doing to a daemon. She further becomes distrustful of Mrs Coulter when she seemingly reveals that Asriel is Lyra’s father a scene that is magnificently realised by writer Jack Thorne and actors Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson; Thorne’s building up of tension and anger between Lyra and Mrs Coulter is done in a realistic way and helps gives the drama a thrilling mid-episode climax that not only rewards the audience for their viewership up to that point but also makes them want to find out what the consequences of that scene are.
Meanwhile, Roger is brought by the Gobblers to London where he meets Gyptian child Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt) also kidnapped by the Gobblers. The Gyptians attempt to find Billy and the other children is, however, initially unsuccessful.
Whilst Lyra attempts to track down Roger, representatives of the Magisterium decide to threaten The Master of Jordan College (Clarke Peters) into giving them more information regarding Lord Asriel’s (James McAvoy) journey to The North and his investigations into the possibility of other universes and of the properties of Dust. The Magisterium, who are responsible for running the Gobbler gangs are worried that the Gyptians or some other force may discover that they’re responsible and decide that they have to do all they can to prevent anyone from discovering their involvement.
Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare), working on behalf of The Magisterium crosses dimensions into our world in an attempt to discover how much Asriel knows about the existence of other worlds and the origins of Dust. This contrast is revealed expertly by Thorne; the audience is unaware that characters from the screen will be able to jump across and inhabit our own world and the twist is done with subtlety and in a way that will keep the audience on its toes; it makes them desperate to learn how this twist will impact on the rest of the series.
Lyra soon realises that Mrs Coulter is not looking for Roger and after a confrontation involving their daemons, it is revealed that Mrs Coulter is not only failing to find Roger but is, in fact, working for The Magisterium in order to use the children for her own nefarious ends. This is confirmed to Lyra by a journalist who crashes one of Mrs Coulter’s parties. As Lyra goes in search of Roger, it soon becomes apparent that he is already being taken towards an uncertain fate – a fate Lyra might soon face herself – leaving us once again with a spectacular cliff-hanger.
As with the opening episode the first episode, the second episode is a mixture of a fast-paced drama and slow-burning tension between characters that artfully leads to full-blown confrontations that allow the drama to develop naturally and at no time seems forced. It is this ability to deliver information to the audience without feeling as if they are either only getting half of the picture or that they are being overwhelmed with information that makes the drama so enjoyable.
Jack Thorne understands that Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels is intricately written and ensures that the intricacies reach the screen without forcing the audience to feel that they are losing focus from the drama because of the amount of background knowledge that is being dumped on them. Thorne’s skill is supreme but his talent at adaptation is even more profoundly apparent when watching His Dark Materials; it is a testament to his skill that the series both feels visual whilst also retaining the sense that you could be reading the book.
The performances from the cast are brilliant; every actor fully inhabits the character they’re playing in a way that helps emphasize the accuracy of Thorne’s adaptation. When Dafne Keen utters a line from the script we don’t feel like we’re watching an actor reciting but rather Lyra speaking. This can be applied across the cast and there is never a single ingenuine moment from any of the characters.
Particularly powerful in her performance is Ruth Wilson, who brings a sardonic charm to her portrayal of Mrs Coulter. Wilson understands how to play a layered and Janus like character like Coulter and she does this to perfection. Throughout the episode, she is able to maintain a steeled and resolute public persona that slowly comes under pressure from Lyra’s continual refusal to obey her. The boiling point, when Lyra and Mrs Coulter argue about finding Roger and how Lord Asriel would do a better job at finding him leadings to Mrs Coulter’s revelation about Lyra’s parentage is brilliantly done by Wilson. She exhibits shock and horror at how her own anger has pushed her to reveal such a deeply held secret.
The second episode of His Dark Materials gives its audience a great deal to unpack and whilst the performances throughout are excellent, Ruth Wilson steals the show in her portrayal of Mrs Coulter. With such an artful combination of a phenomenal cast, stunning script and wonderful direction by Peaky Blinder’s Otto Bathhurst, His Dark Materials once again rewards its audience and ensures their continued rapt attention.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
His Dark Materials Continues Sunday at 8.00pm on BBC One.