TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1

Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation

“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”

There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).

Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age.

Quality drama demands a quality cast and this His Dark Materials has in abundance, so many individual scenes and performances shining like diamonds around the leads. The aching sadness weighing down Serafina Pekkala and Farder Coram played beautifully by Ruta Gedmintas and James Cosmo; Amit Shah’s almost-goodness bouncing off Lia Williams’ glorious malevolence in Bolvangar; Ariyon Bakare’s impossibly suave Lord Boreal slipping between worlds, and the lusciousness of the voice cast for the daemons (Helen McCrory, David Suchet). Plus lots of the wonderful Lucian Msamati for good measure. And Will Keen. And the heroic Simon Manyonda, how the list goes on.

And then the wonder that is Ruth Wilson, living her best life as Mrs Coulter. Looking impossibly cool in every frame, in any number of fetching outfits and hats (Caroline McCall), she perfectly embodied this most notorious of characters, layering in so much more than the villain. How anyone could abuse this most gifted of actors on their own show is beyond me. Thus there’s something appalling appropriate about a story of overthrowing dangerous ideologies, challenging notions of facts and truth and their gatekeepers, that marks this out as a television series for the ages, roll on Series 2!

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