Television

His Dark Materials 1.4 review: Armour

After I thought last week’s episode was disappointing, His Dark Materials returns with a spectacular bang in what could be the best episode of the season so far. Armour captures everything I wanted to see from this adaptation, both accurately representing the events depicted in Philip Pullman‘s novel, but also embellishing the story to suit the television format. Armour sees Lyra and the Gyptians arriving in Trollesund and meeting key characters Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg) and Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), with the bulk of the episode serving as introductions for these two characters.

Scoresby is perhaps the more interesting of the two, as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s casting is perhaps a little odd to me. Scoresby is described as being an older, Texan cowboy and aeronaut, for which Sam Elliott was perfectly cast in The Golden Compass film adaptation. Miranda is, however, much younger and probably better-looking, which therefore doesn’t match the Lee Scoresby, I (and I suspect many others) imagined. That being said, he’s actually really, really good in the role. I never doubted Miranda’s qualities as an actor and whilst I still think he’s too young, he’s pretty darn great as Scoresby coming across as charming, eccentric and endearing. He’s got great comic timing but also handles the more dramatic moments very well. His scene confronting Syssellman about Iorek’s armour was surprisingly strong and his interactions with Dafne Keen as Lyra were lovely to watch unfold (I particularly loved how she kept stealing his bacon as they talked). As far as changes from the book go, I’m pretty happy with the changes to Scoresby; he’s still very much the same character Pullman wrote and I imagine that Miranda will encourage a whole new audience to watch the series (he’s certainly been in the promotional material enough!).

We also finally get to see Iorek friggin’ Byrnison, another fan-favourite character. He’s a hard character to depict on television, mostly because he’s an armoured bear but also because he has to convey complex emotions, but also fight various characters and build various items (we get to see him metal-bending here, which was a nice touch). Put simply: if the visual effects don’t work with Iorek, the character doesn’t work. I had been slightly concerned given how cartoon-ish the Daemons can look sometimes but despite one or two wobbly shots, I thought that Iorek looked fantastic on-screen. The sound design really helps to lend him a sense of real weight and force, with Joe Tandberg’s gravelly vocal delivery definitely giving the character a real screen presence. Iorek’s rampage on Trollesund was a highlight of the episode to, as were his interactions with Lee and Lyra and that brief glimpse of Iofur Raknison was promising as well…

We also got to see a bit more of the dynamic between Farder Coram (James Cosmo) and Lyra, which was a lovely inclusion. Given how the show has beefed-up John Faa’s role, Farder Coram has somewhat fallen by the wayside and I have been disappointed not to see more from him. He’s such a warm and friendly character in the books that to see his role diminished here was slightly disappointing. Thankfully though, we got to see more from him, with Cosmo delivering some very heartfelt lines to Lyra about his past relationship with witch, Serafina Pekkala – whose Daemon we see in the form of Kaisa (David Suchet) in this episode. Oh, and of course who can forget Dafne Keen – the M.V.P of this series. She’s fantastic in every single scene of every episode and I can’t believe all the things that are going to happen to her over the course of the show. Protect her at all costs!

If you really want more evidence of how good this episode was, we didn’t even see much of Lord Boreal and his exploits, which was a relief. Instead, our Magisterium focus was squarely on Ruth Wilson as the delightfully devilish Mrs. Coulter – the show’s second M.V.P., who probably deserves what’s coming to her. What more can I say from previous weeks other than that Wilson is brilliant and greatly improves every scene she’s in. I’d much rather see more of her exploits than Lord Boreal’s, that’s for certain.

In summary, Armour is a fantastic instalment in His Dark Materials and completely restores any lost faith from last week’s disappointing middle-chapter. There’s great characters, a brilliant action set-piece with Iorek’s rampage and the focus is all on the show’s best characters. This is the show I wanted to see, and I’m so glad I’m getting to see it. Roll on next week! 

His Dark Materials continues on BBC One next week, for all our reviews so far, head here!

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