Following the modest success of The Ruby in the Smoke, this sequel suffers from uncanny themes. 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.

The Shadow in the North (2007) ITV Film Review

Since her last escapade Sally Lockheart (Billie Piper) chooses 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 recommends, Sally promises her she will retrieve the money. She discovers the mysterious owner Mr. Bellman (Jared Harris) may not be who he seems. This inspires an investigation that begins to uncover the wealthy businessman’s secrets.

‘THE SHADOW IN THE NORTH’ (2007). Billie Piper returns in the Philip Pullman sequel adaptation of BBC's period drama. All text is © Rissi JC
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Meanwhile the charming Fred Garland (JJ Feild) and the kind Jim (Matt Smith) open their own detective agency. They’re embroiled in a case with famous magician, Alistair MacKinnon (Julian Rhind-­Tutt). He claims men are trying to kill him after he “saw” a clairvoyant murder. The two cases eventually intersect, leading the would-be detectives to again work together and into a great danger no one expects.

Skeptical is usually my reaction to anything that deals with black magic or any kind of physic clues. I did see The Ruby in the Smoke before realizing Pullman’s style. I soon learn however, with all the useful information I have on The Golden Compass (which is also by him) that his beliefs are 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 did.

All of this aghast is unnecessary as there isn’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 a “medium.” Mirroring its predecessor, BBC deserves credit for creating such a beautiful costume 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 in one scene or why there’s shortness between Fred and Sally.)

Furthermore, 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 the U.S. version has some cuts from the British, which I think plays a small role in the choppy camera work. What did impress me was the film’s opening scene. It’s darkness and blurry filmmaking sets a grand stage for what is, on second glance a much stronger mystery. This one has a more “seductive” pull through where ‘Ruby’ lacks originality. 

Almost everything is handled well, and isn’t the “in your face” material we see often; any magical tricks get explanation. I can forgive pretty much everything that’s mildly offensive except for the death of a main character made worse when we realize it isn’t a trick. Just when everything starts to look better and we’d see a sweet moment of clarity; things take a turn for the worse which results in death. Seeing the original cast back is delightful. There isn’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. The leading men lend sufficient charm – including Matt Smith who is quite possibly my favorite character.  

Just recently I re-watched these films, and recognize both as “better” than they get credit 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; 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 follow up, because they leaves us with an impression that there’s a brighter future. That, for me is compelling enough.  

Content; 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. Someone attacks and stabs a woman; likewise Fred and Jim get into a fist fight with two thugs. An animal attacks a man and catches a bullet. There’s numerous threats against Sally. 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 is TVPG.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


    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. ;)

    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. :)

    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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