His Dark Materials: series 2

December 21, 2020

Last night saw the final episode of the second TV series based on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It was something I’d looked forward to all year, and it did not disappoint, although apparently COVID prevented the filming of one stand-alone episode, I read somewhere: I hope we get this eventually! In fact, it was some of the best TV I’ve watched in years, all things considered.

The special effects are superbly done, so well that everything about the parallel universes feels quite natural. More work seemed to have been done on the daemons in this series, and they were very effective. Casting was strong: the creepy leaders of the Magisterium, with their sinister daemons; Mrs Coulter and her perverted relationship with her daemon underlining her conflicted but ultimately evil nature; Will and Lyra’s companionship and development of trust I found utterly convincing.

The screenplay is adapted from three long and complex novels, and whereas in the first series they stuck to The Northern Lights, in this series elements from both the second and third books have been introduced and carefully interwoven; it’s clear that in the translation from novel to screen changes and simplifications were going to be required, but the strong characters and the essential plot-lines have been retained, and developed effectively.

Conceptually, Pullman’s key ideas are well-anchored; the idea of dust has been clearly explained, the link to original sin brought out, and the innocence and experience/ Adam and Eve element of the Will and Lyra pairing was made evident in the final episode. These ideas are crucial to the novels and obviously fully explained in them, but it’s to the scriptwriters’ credit that they have neither laboured these ideas nor written them out of the plot.

So, what have I particularly noticed and liked about this series? The development of Mrs Coulter’s character has been really well done, and through the use of the monkey daemon the aspects of a person’s nature or soul that the daemon represents becomes very clear. She is conflicted in her relationship with her daughter: maternal instinct crosses a sense of philosophical or religious conviction of what is right and wrong, and this torment has a long way to go yet.

The relationship between Will and his father has been forefronted, at least compared with my recollection of the novels, and this is a welcome development. On screen I have experienced a much clearer picture of a boy on the cusp of adulthood wrestling with all kinds of inner demons. Mary Malone has been an interesting character thus far, and I shall be very interested to see what the scriptwriters do with her in the next series. Her spiritual side is important: we’ve had a single brief reference to her being an ex-nun, and the casting of the I-Ching has been shown several times.

I will be intrigued to see how both the scriptwriters and the SFX people cope with creating and making the mulefa work; they are crucial to the story and yet are surely the creatures furthest removed from familiarity in Pullman’s text. Equally, how the replay of Armageddon will be performed… lots of opportunity for spectacular effects, but how much of the significance of the battle can be conveyed? Even in the book I felt that some of this was a little unclear.

But, in this weirdest of years, I am grateful to have been so fully and grippingly entertained for seven consecutive Sunday evenings, and I can’t wait for the next series…

***You can read my review of the first series here

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