DVD Review: The Shadow in the North

“I thought you had a bit of milk in your coconut”

The second (and last) of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries to be adapted for the television, The Shadow in the North very much pales in the shadow of The Ruby in the Smoke for me as the lesser of the two, which is a real shame as I did love the latter and felt it showed great promise in setting up the mini-franchise. This story sees Sally following up a client who has lost her savings after investing in a company, on Sally’s advice, which went bust suspiciously. The mysterious industrialist behind that company the Swedish Axel Bellman quickly set up again and so Sally’s instincts are aroused as she investigates the business dealings in order to get compensation for her client. But accusing such a powerful man of corruption and fraud sets her on a most dangerous course and puts the lives of those around her at severe risk.

So the ingredients are there, and the story is one I enjoyed reading, but something was just missing. The mystery never quite has the drive to keep the story going, the tone ends up being rather dour rather than dark and subsequently doesn’t grip like it ought. And its nature means that Billie Piper’s Sally is given less chance to interact with the key players around her – it is Pullman’s fault rather than the show’s but it is a real shame that Hayley Atwell’s Rosa is dispatched to marital bliss in the country within 10 minutes of the show starting as they made a great team. Instead, the personal intrigue is around whether Sally will admit to her feelings for JJ Feild’s Fred (still so handsome!) and Matt Smith’s Jim, thankfully no longer the narrator, hangs around like a bit of a spare part, though gets to do a lot of the investigating (bizarrely though off-screen and on his own…).

There is some fun to be had with Doña Croll’s flirtatious psychic Nellie Budd, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Other guests have to stick to the dour tone: Lyndsey Marshal’s devoted Isabel, Julian Rhind-Tutt’s haunted magician, it’s just all a bit monochromatic. Perversely then, when the tone does shift into an expressionistic romantic mood (which feels so oddly out of place in the show), there’s a truly shocking sledgehammer blow as the Dawson’s Creek law of people having sex getting punished comes into effect. This further mutes the show and left me really quite disappointed. The final twist, though ostensibly sweet, feels a little too modern to really convince as a realistic plot point for the time and so I have to say I wouldn’t recommend this to you in all honesty.

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