The Shadow in the North (2007)


Our rating: 3 out of 5

Rated: TVPG

reviewed by Rissi C.

Following the modest success of The Ruby in the Smoke, which also starred Billie Piper, this sequel suffers from uncanny themes that give us the appearance of mystical tricks and peculiar magician tricks. But on the whole if you keep that in mind, without believing any of its preposterous ideas (which for the majority are scams), you can enjoy this eighty-plus minute Victorian thriller by British author Philip Pullman.


Since her last escapade Sally Lockheart (Piper) has chosen the unusual by becoming a working woman in London as a financial advisor. When her client Miss Walsh, comes to her with distressing news that she has lost all her money by investing in a shipping company called the Anglo-Baltic, which Sally advised her to do, Sally promises her she will find everything out about the mysterious owner Mr. Bellman (Jared Harris). Determined to get the money back, Sally finds Mr. Bellman, with many secrets or so it would seem and despite the attempt on his part to intimidate Sally, she continues looking for the truth. Meanwhile the charming Fred Garland (JJ Field) and the kindhearted Jim (Matt Smith) have opened their own detective agency and have 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 through meeting the murderer. Attempting to work together in a professional manner, Sally and Fred have agreed to “call it a day” between them after this case. It eventually becomes clear the two cases are more connected than they thought and one twist after another leads them into more danger than either can have imagined … it’s only a matter of time before the unthinkable happens.


I confess I had seen The Ruby in the Smoke before I realized what author Philip Pullman’s writing contained. I soon learned however, with all the useful information I received on The Golden Compass, and was quite appalled by the preposterous and insulting themes. When I saw this sequel was to be produced I did go back and forth whether or not I wanted to see it, but chose to continue the Lockheart adventures. There wasn’t anything overly troubling or offensive to me in spiritual matters but there is a great deal of mystical dealings and Fred visits a woman twice who is a skilled as a “medium”; on the second visit we learn the “secret." The magician’s performances aren’t any worse than The Illusionist. I expected it to be more prominent than it was after reading the DVD description. There were more troubling plot twists than paranormal themes. Yet again one has to applaud the BBC for making a beautifully costumed drama, but one can’t speak too highly of the filmmaking; nothing ever seems to make as much sense as it should (we don’t realize where we are supposed to be in the second scene or why  Fred and Sally are terse with one another). Farthermore, the story jumps around quite a bit such as going back and forth between Fred and Sally as they are finding the new clues that may solve the mystery.


The U.S. version has been cut a great deal from the British, and I think that also played a big role in the choppiness of camera work. Still other things make up for it along the way (such as costumes) the original cast no doubt helped also and there were little things in the screenplay that were a lovely touch to such an otherwise heavy plot. This isn’t for young viewers even though it does use restraint in what we actually see for violent content, the eeriness in which it’s filmed or acted out make it almost as bad as seeing a violent sword fight. The film opens with a man stabbing someone several times (it’s filmed in a shroud of fog, making it difficult to see), 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 shares a room and is later confirmed. There is a character involved with a married man (unknowingly) and a married woman being courted; an unmarried woman becomes pregnant. Most everything is handled well and is not the “in your face” material we see often, but with the cuts made for the U.S. version, the content may have been toned down from region 2. 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 trick of any sort. 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. The Shadow in the North will deserve a second viewing before passing final judgment on it, but right now I prefer the prequel even with its few unanswered questions, it was better all around. This did have its good qualities, such as Jim saving Sally from a terrible fate or Sally trying to help a troubled woman, still I like my leading characters to survive no matter how deeply dramatic the story. We do end on a much lighter upbeat note and you have hope that the surviving characters are going to make a fresh start. If there are more productions in the works, I will probably see it, because we are given the belief that it will be a brighter future for the characters who continue to seek justice, no matter the cost.