Synopsis: We begin in Jordan College, where explorer Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) once sought sanctuary for a baby called Lyra. Now a sparky 12-year-old, she darts happily around the rooftops with her orphan friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd). But when Asriel returns to deliver news of his discoveries in the frozen North, Lyra prevents an attempt on his life and starts a larger quest.
This first episode does a great job of setting up the world and the various factions and characters in it. I liked the theme of youth versus age that comes across in Lyra’s interactions with the Librarian and the Master as well as Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. I really felt immersed in the reality the show creates and I was completely hooked by the mystery that was masterfully revealed throughout the episode. I loved not knowing who could really be trusted and I enjoyed the side plot of the missing Gyptian children. The worldbuilding was absolutely top-notch and it was clear that a great deal of effort had been put into bringing this universe to the screen. There were some utterly gorgeous shots of Oxford and the catacombs that Lyra and Roger were playing in as well as their chase across the rooftops
James McAvoy shows great intensity as well as tenderness here in his interactions with Lyra, who is played by Dafne Keen with the right balance of spunk, grit and wide-eyed optimism. James McAvoy also shows great presence as an actor when Lord Asriel addresses the Jordan College professors. Ian Gelder plays a great stuffy and fastidious Librarian who reveals a caring and moral side when he speaks against the attempt on Lord Asriel’s life. Ruth Wilson has fantastic presence and menace throughout her screen time and portrays Mrs. Coulter’s restrained villainy phenomenally. There are some great scenes with Mrs. Coulter and Lyra that show the juxtaposition of youthful innocence and experienced cunning brilliantly Lewin Lloyd plays Roger with some nice humour which comes through in his and Lyra’s interactions. Anne-Marie Duff really brings out Ma Costa’s humanity and makes you root for her and the Gyptians as a whole. She also provides a foil, intentionally or otherwise, to the urbane and devious Mrs. Coulter.
The daemons are brilliantly realized in this episode. I particularly liked the stalking fox daemon whose human was never seen. The city in the cloud of Dust was beautiful as well. The airships were virtually indistinguishable from the real world which helped to draw me into the show. The shot of the Magisterium was breathtaking and set up the dangers that Lyra will face in the coming weeks really well. The opening titles were stunning and reminded me a lot of the Night Manager. I loved how atmospheric the prologue was and how it fitted with the world of secrets and uncertainty that His Dark Materials presents.
An intriguing and visually stunning opening to what looks to be an excellent series.
The novel series of ‘His Dark Materials’ is featured in a gift list on The Portalist.com
- Incidental Music9.5