From the promo images teased for this week’s His Dark Materials, this critic noticed something different about Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson). It was her clothes, changed as she moves through Will’s world with Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare). She now wears an outfit closer to our sense of fashion, closer to a successful businesswoman than a steampunk manipulator. It's representative of the more liberal reality she’s stepping into.
The show’s costume designer, Caroline McCall, subtly captures Coulter’s jealous experience. Coulter sees the narrow(er) divisions between genders in Will's world, and she's struck by the quality of life beyond the dogmatic and misogynistic Magisterium. Although you’ve seen her angry, disdainful, and guilty, envy is a new human emotion that tides across her vitriolic face.
It’s severely repressed during a creaky meeting with the curious Dr Malone (Simone Kirby), a female scientist who’s achieved everything Coulter strives for.
Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) in her new outfit. Photo: BBC
The tone of Coulter and Boreal’s plot thread this episode resembles a cold war thriller. Boreal explains that the populace in this new world has only the illusion of freedom, that ‘it’s a culture of consumerism, not faith’. You can imagine a similar conversation, decrying capitalism, between Soviet spies as they infiltrate the West. Boreal even has a piece of the Berlin Wall in his vast collection of artefacts, a brilliant tongue-in-cheek moment.
At the same time, they clearly love the pleasures this world has to offer. Boreal even endeavours to seduce Coulter, playing out like a rich but terrible first date, switching on chillout music and boasting about the sound system. Towards the end, she eviscerates him with a brutal verbal castration, precisely suggestive enough to pass as family-friendly (much like the book). It’s some of the best writing this series.
Meanwhile, Will (Amir Wilson) and Lyra (Dafne Keen) are in a separate genre altogether in Cittágazze. They're essentially in a heist movie, but with a knife that can cut between worlds. They plan to steal back the alethiometer from Boreal using the subtle knife to break into his house, unnoticed. Little do they know the company he's keeping.
The digital effects in these scenes are beautiful, close to poetic: a rare achievement for CGI. Will cuts the strings threading the different dimensions, opens a window, and re-attaches those strings back together again. It's magically precise and visually immersive.
Will (Amir Wilson) opening a window between worlds with Lyra (Dafne Keen). Photo: BBC
Prior to their heist, there's some trouble in Cittágazze. Angelica (Bella Ramsey) discovers her brother’s soulless body, his soul sucked away by the frightening Dementors – sorry: Spectres. Although many have seen Ramsey’s cold and stern talents as Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones, she's in a different capacity here: exploding into a fury of tears; vengeful; malicious. We haven’t seen the last of her, for sure.
In a climactic scene, filled with palm-sweating tension, you see another side to Lyra. One that mirrors her mother’s violence and cruelty. The anger in her heart palpitates on screen, Keen delivering her finest performance in His Dark Materials – wielding both power and pain. And there’s nothing more exciting than daemons fighting, which also serves to show how far Lyra’s come from her days at Jordan College. She’s growing up, and the Magisterium should be terrified.
His Dark Materials continues Sundays at 8:10pm on BBC One
|What||His Dark Materials series 2 episode 5, BBC One review|
06 Dec 20 – 06 Dec 21, ON BBC ONE
|Website||Click here for more information|