Director: Jamie Childs
Starring: Dafne Keen, Amir Wilson, Ruth Wilson, Ruta Gedmintas, Jade Anouka, Will Keen and Lin-Manuel Miranda
One of the more challenging things to deal with this year may be the lack of new media. The world has had to stay home, say ‘no’ to anything social or contact with relatives – and we have all turned inward to our screens. There comes a point when we watch our old favourites, rewatch a box series in expectation of a new series – and when we have watched our usual report-ire of films a hundred times over. No cinema = no new films.
His Dark Materials was one series that largely escaped the Covid 19 pandemic. All filming – bar one spin-off episode that was later canned, related to James McAvoy’s character of Lord Asriel – was completed prior to the new restrictions we are all facing. If there was one thing that was going to be good during this general suckfest of a year, it was going to be the return of this epic fantasy series. Just add Donald Trump being voted out of the office and not having a two-term presidency.
Unlike most series’, this did not have a defined ‘previously’ segment to remind people what had happened in series one. There were some clips, largely taken from the last episode of season one – but relatives of mine who wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘clued-up’ were lost. A lot of questions were asked throughout.
His Dark Materials Season 2 Episode is humorous at times
Lyra meeting Will Parry is less ‘wild’ than in the books, with less of a ‘feral’ reaction. It’s humorous at times, to see two worlds literally colliding in a third – complete with the (in)famous semi bonding scene surrounding an omelette, with Lyra wondering out loud about a ‘kitchen boy’. An improvised scene surrounding Deamons and their etiquette – you must not touch them, at all! – added something to an awkward charm, that will ultimately cast the spell of a storyteller.
We also have something of a new feminist hero. The early beginning of The Subtle Knife – which season two of His Dark Materials – shows Lee Scorsbey attending a council of witches. However, there is a tension in the programme, between the clans who will ultimately disagree on the approach to take in the course of events to come. Ruta Skadi flies through rain, almost thunder-like weather to help a fellow witch – one who is being gruesomely tortured by Mrs Coulter, played by Ruth Wilson. Ruta is perhaps more extreme – arguing for more direct action. As is the convention of the witches, she kills the witch who is dying, who has been crying out for relief. Having made herself visible – by proxy – to members of the enemy, the Magisterium, she must fight her way out. Several powerful ranking men are wounded, killed in the process — in something of a kickass, fast-moving scene. The Magisterium is arguably a patriarchal analogy – and here are women at the forefront, advocating for equality for all. Jade Anouka as Ruta is brilliant – and she is a particular highlight in this opening episode.
If you’re after action and drama as we saw in the first season, this episode was a little slow on the mark. Clues, however, have been set for the next episode. Tantalising clues of the Spectres are placed strategically throughout – complete with a glimpse of a creepy adult who looks like the walking dead. Too much of the dialogue is spent speculating, asking feverish questions, thinking, meaning that this episode can be a bit slow going. The dialogue could have been a bit more punchy, snappy, to create more of a dramatic opening episode to the series. Season two needs to be better than season one – because how are we going to get a third and final season, that completes the trilogy?
Ruth Wilson is brilliant in this episode
Mrs Coulter, played by Ruth Wilson, needs a special mention. Ruth Wilson is a wonderfully varied actor – from The Lone Ranger to The Real Mrs Wilson – and Mrs Coulter is no exception. Nicole Kidman played Mrs Coulter in the film The Golden Compass, which is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. (The first season of the boxset is based on this book.) Kidman was exotic, dangerous, even flirtatious – but lacked the 3D dimension to make the character human. Kidmen’s Coulter was just vindictive – whereas Wilson’s character is nuanced, even vulnerable. The jewelled coloured suits mark her out as a woman in a man’s world, one who is used to dealing with sexism – but these are an armour, a method almost of protection. The BBC adaptation gives Mrs Coulter the justice that her character has long been crying out for.
Can we talk about the sets? The detail is incredible. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice the tiny period details that were missing in the film adaptation – including angel statues surrounding a tower, which is significant to the entirety of the plot of the series. The world that Lyra and Will finally meet in has been meticulously recreated, almost exactly according to Philip Pullman’s books.
Who is Will Parry in His Dark Materials Season 2 Episode 1?
And the childish interactions! Will and Lyra are around twelve years old in the book, but they have been ‘aged up’ in this series. Puberty is a huge theme – and the reason why will soon become clear. But there is a touch of naivety, a subtle performance. A feral gang of children are prevented from stoning a cat to death, resulting in a standoff with Will and Lyra – almost like the days of when children used to play outside. There is a war-like tone, a vengeance.
But who is Will Parry? This scene should have been at the beginning – where Lyra asks ‘the truth-teller’ this question. ‘A murderer’ is the response. She accepts this, almost with a childlike innocence, as she is beginning to grow up into a young woman. But this could have been a great opening for more of a dramatic episode, an opening to the second series with a ‘bang’. We can only hope for more suspense.
His Dark Materials returns on BBC1 on Sunday 15th November at 8:10pm GMT.
What do you make of this review? Did you like Episode 1 of His Dark Materials Season 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
What do you make of this story? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook or Instagram pages! And if you enjoy listening to film podcasts, why not check out our podcasts, Small Screen Stories and Small Screen Film Club wherever you get your podcasts!