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The Shadow in the North (2007)

Following the modest success of The Ruby in the Smoke, this sequel suffers from uncanny themes that give us the appearance of mystical tricks and peculiar magician tricks. But if you keep that in mind, without believing any of its preposterous idea, you can enjoy this Victorian thriller by British author Philip Pullman.

Since her last escapade Sally Lockheart (Billie Piper) has chosen the unusual by becoming a working woman as a financial advisor. When her client alerts her to the distressing news that she has lost all her money by investing in a shipping company called the Anglo-Baltic – a financial advisement Sally herself recommended, Sally promises her she will retrieve the money, in the process finding out about the mysterious owner Mr. Bellman (Jared Harris); an investigation that begins to uncover the wealthy businessman’s secrets. Meanwhile the charming Fred Garland (JJ Feild) and the kindhearted Jim (Matt Smith) have opened their own detective agency and become embroiled in a case with famous magician, Alistair MacKinnon (Julian Rhind-­Tutt) who claims men are trying to kill him after he “saw” a man murdered clairvoyantly. The two cases eventually intersect, leading the would-be detectives to again work together leading them into a great danger no one expected.

Skeptical is usually my reaction to anything that deals with black magic or any kind of physic clues and I confess seeing The Ruby in the Smoke before realizing Pullman’s style. I soon learned however, with all the useful information I received on The Golden Compass (which is also by him) that his beliefs were nothing like my own. The articles were quite appalling and sometimes insulting. Back at the buildup of the production of this sequel, I did waver in seeing it, but in the end, I choose to continue. All of that aghast turned out to be unneeded as there wasn’t anything overly troubling or offensive with its spiritual themes, but there is a great deal of mystical dealings as well as a character whose livelihood is made as a “medium.”

Mirroring its predecessor, BBC has to be credited for creating such a beautifully costumed drama, but one can’t speak too highly of the filmmaking; nothing ever seems to clarify some of the senseless storylines (we don’t realize where we are supposed to be in one scene or why  Fred and Sally are terse with one another). Farther more, the story jumps around quite a bit in a hurried fashion trying to keep up with both Fred and Sally as they separately unscramble clues. The efforts are less of joint detective work whereas Ruby in the Smoke had the character’s closely working together. My understanding is that the U.S. version was cut from the British, and I think that also played a small role in the choppiness of camera work. What did impress me was the film’s opening scene. It’s darkness and blurred filmmaking sets a grand stage for what is, on second glance a much stronger mystery, seeming to be more of a “seductive” pull through where ‘Ruby’ lacked originality. 

Most everything here is handled well and is not the “in your face” material we see often – any magical tricks are explained away. I could forgive pretty much everything that was mildly offensive except for the death of a main character that is made even worse when we realize it wasn’t a concealed trick. Just when everything was starting to look better and we’d just had a sweet moment of clarity; things take a turn for the worse which results in death. Getting back the original cast was delightful. There wasn’t the same entertainment value in their sleuthing but here boasts a greater villain. The tension between he and Sally is unexpected, yet interesting to watch. Played by Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), the intricate chess game the two play at builds to its maximum and leads us to admire Sally where once we perhaps did not. The leading men lend sufficient charm – including Matt Smith who is quite possibly my favorite character.  

Just recently I re-watched these films, and recognized both as “better” than they are credited for. Like anything, The Shadow in the North has it strengths and weaknesses, leveraging itself against the latter by interesting dynamics and a pert heroine. And certainly, this did have its good qualities, such as Jim saving Sally from a terrible fate or Sally trying to help a troubled woman, still forgiving its eventual tragedy isn’t easy as I like my leading characters to survive no matter how deeply dramatic the story. Made easier is the final scene that is in no way dark, but is full of “light” showing hope that the surviving characters are going to make a fresh start. Had there been more productions, I would have followed up, because we are left with the impression that it will be a brighter future for the characters who continue to seek justice… no matter the cost. That, for me is compelling enough.  

(Parental concerns; there’s a stabbing in the opening frame [the sword is thrust into the victim multiple times] and again in further flashbacks, then see a man’s face beneath a frozen river. A woman is attacked and stabbed; likewise Fred and Jim get into a fist fight with two thugs. An animal is shown attacking a man and is shot. Sally is threatened numerous times. A man is splintered with bullets [implied and heard, not seen]. Some mild innuendos make it into the script; it’s implied an unmarried couple is intimate. There is a character involved with a married man [unknowingly]; an unmarried woman becomes pregnant. The film rates TVPG.)
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  1. I saw these at one point but I don't really remember anything about them except my continuing dislike for Billie Pipier. =D

    1. Billie is not my favorite British actress either, Charity but... she has grown on me. And I liked Sally way better in these second viewings. :)

    2. I HATED her character in Doctor Who, hence why I can't stand her. Or maybe I hated Billie Piper, and that's why I can't stand her character in Doctor Who? ;)

    3. It's probably a combination of both. When you don't like an actor/actress, I think that does tend to prejudice the viewer to their character.

    4. Yup.

      There's a couple of cast members in different shows where there's no real reason I don't like the character, so I have to conclude it's because the actor/actress for whatever reason really irritates me. It was the same with Piper -- and the whiny, self-absorbed, immature character of Rose didn't help!

    5. Mostly my feelings on that subject have to do with an actor playing a good guy then a in a complete turnaround, a role that is a despicable villain - like Anthony Andrews in David Copperfield, it was a good thing I saw him first in 'Pimpernel.'

      I don't really like Billie Piper as an actress but don't mind her in what I've seen. Same with Ashton Kutcher. I'm not his most ardent fan but like what I've seen him in. ;)

  2. I had no idea there was a sequel! I'll have to get it, these are some of my favorite books!

    1. Good to know, KatySue! I've not read the books however, the movies are quite good. :)

  3. I loved Billie Piper in Doctor Who, and this sounds interesting. An awesome review, as always!

    1. The only 'Who' companion I've met is Amy and she's a doll. Great to read so many are fan's of Billie's companion also.

      Thanks for reading, Gwendolyn! Appreciate it. :)

  4. I didn't care for Billie Piper in "DOCTOR WHO". But I did like her in "MANSFIELD PARK" (2007). I guess it depends upon the role.

    1. Definitely agree with that, Rush Blog. I think it does depend on the role. Haven't seen Billie in 'Who' but liked her in these movies and Mansfield Park though she is still not my favorite actress.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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