was never a more perfect time for fantasy to sweep us away. This critic writes
after Joe Biden won the US presidential election, following a long and exhaustive week: a
torturous process that required anxious attention to constant news updates. We’ve
had our eyes and ears pressed to reality for long enough, which is why the
return of the consistently thrilling His Dark Materials is a welcome
escape – especially during the opening chapters of Lockdown 2.
first episode of series two grabs you and flies you to worlds very different from our own. They're now connected after Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened a ‘schism’ allowing
entry to parallel dimensions. Series one closed as the ferociously enjoyable Lyra
(Dafne Keen) walked through Asriel’s portal, clasping her daemon Pantalaimon
(Kit Connor) – an external anthropomorphised representation of her conscience
and soul – and stepped into the unknown. In doing so, His Dark Materials
expands its excellence.
Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her daemon Pantalaimon (Kit Connor). Photo: BBC
Jack Thorne (CripTales) plunges into the second volume of Philip Pullman’s
book trilogy, The Subtle Knife, after teasing it in series one. Lyra and Will Parry (Amir Wilson) finally
meet in a world neither of them belong to: in the city of Cittagàzze
('chitta-gat-zee'). Its unforgettable design – perched and elevated on a rocky island
attached to a cliff – resembles that of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the
Rings film trilogy, only with a more Italian atmosphere.
And it’s creepier
too: devoid of any people despite the restaurants, cafés and upturned food
the book places a deep focus on Will, the series
wisely emphasises Lyra. Their meeting is hostile, confused – resulting in
some of the finest and funniest dialogues so far on the show. Thorne builds
their relationship gradually, giving them room to breathe. It’s a joy to watch it unfold: their personalities delightfully childish and oppositional.
particular excels with Lyra’s puerility, often shrugging off important matters
like showering (‘Ah, fine as I am’). Series one necessarily forced her into
maturity, so it’s exceedingly fun to watch her be an independent kid. But they’re
not alone in the eerie Cittagàzze.
Will (Amir Wilson) and Lyra finally unite in the eerie city of Cittagàzze. Photo: BBC
the schism in Lyra’s world is turning everyone into soldiers awaiting battle. As
the skies are bathed in darkness, the theocratic Magisterium gathers armies of airships and submarines. The large, bald Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck) is denying
the existence of the schism, despite it shining bright for all to see, much
to the chagrin of his bishops.
And then there’s Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson), who suddenly
materialises out of nowhere like a lethal and fashionable phantom. It’s hard to
think of a scarier villain on TV at the moment, containing all the poise and
sexual weaponry of an erudite femme fatale, but with a primal evil screaming inside.
You have the urge to collapse and weep whenever she enters a room. Wilson plays
her with such breathless vivacity, in the series’ most valuable performance.
witches have also gathered together, with the aëronaut Lee Scorseby (Lin-Manuel
Miranda) tagging along. The Latvian witch queen Ruta Skadi (aggressively played
by Jade Anouka) flies in, soaring through storm clouds and providing the
episode’s key action scenes. They’re preparing to fight an oncoming war.
two immediately sets a darker tone for the episodes ahead, which is some
achievement considering the holocaustal precedent. Not since the youthful Harry
Potter movie days has this critic been so excited for what’s to come in a fantasy
meant for children. The epic awe and wonder and sense of adventure is boundless,
and its existence during Lockdown 2 is undeniably precious. A comforting daemon in times of woe.
His Dark Materials airs on Sunday 8 November at 8:10pm on BBC One
|What||His Dark Materials series 2 episode 1, BBC One review|
08 Nov 20 – 08 Nov 21, ON BBC ONE
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