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VINE VOICEon 26 February 2008
As with many other BBC productions, this new adaptation of Philip Pullman's excellent Sally Lockhart series does not disappoint. It stars the headstrong protagonist Sally Lockhart, following her adventures and the enigmatic events that unfold around her. They story has all the right elements of a Victorian melodrama: rubies, murders, opium, a plot in the north, guns, Chinese traders... and it all comes together within a wonderful Victorian atmosphere. You can almost smell the opium lingering in the air and the run-down feel of the docklands. The plot meanders and tangles together, until it culminates in a dramatic climax.

I still feel that Billie Piper was a little miscast - I felt a lack of connection with her, and she does not match with my personal image of Sally. Objectively, however, she pulls off a great performance, as do the rest of the cast. A special mention must go to the chilling Julie Walters, as well as the actor who plays Jim.

All in all, an excellent adaptation that is well worth a watch. I shall be very much looking forward to The Tiger in the Well and The Tin Princess.
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VINE VOICEon 21 January 2008
It's about time Phillip Pullman got some positive limelight... all the stupid fuss over the anti-religious elements of 'His Dark Materials' rather overshadows the fact that he is an excellent writer. The 'Sally Lockhart' books are a fascinating glimpse into a shady Victorian world and how damn difficult it was to be a woman 150 years ago. Sally Lockhart is a feisty and engaging heroine and, for once, Billy Piper is well cast in the lead role. She manages to convey the spirited independence of the main character while clearly showing us the restrictions placed on women at that time. I hope very much that the next one will be filmed as it is a corker of a story.
As for these two, I heartily recommend them - they are very good stories with excellent characters and locations.
P.S. Does anyone else think that JJ Feild looks rather like Jude Law?!?
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VINE VOICEon 20 January 2008
This two-DVD set features the opening two stories based on Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart novels. I should point out that I have not read any of the books in this series; this review is purely based on the DVD package. Both stories are feature length, running to approximately 90 minutes each. Disc one ("The Ruby in the Smoke") includes an interview with Philip Pullman. This is the sole bonus feature in the package, but both DVDs contain English subtitles if required.

`The Ruby in the Smoke' is set in England in 1874. Sally Lockhart (Billie Piper), a feisty young woman whose father has been killed in mysterious circumstances, now resides with her fusty Aunt Caroline. "What accomplishments do you have?" asks the spiteful elderly lady. Sally tells her that she has none save the ability to fire a pistol, speak Hindustani and to read an accounts ledger as easily as a newspaper. By the time she has removed herself from this stifling atmosphere, Sally is immersed in her first mystery. The catalyst for this upheaval is a cryptic note that she has received from Singapore concerning her father's untimely death. Much murderous mayhem and derring-do ensues when the eponymous ruby's existence becomes known.

Sally's business acumen comes to her rescue when she takes on the books at the lovelorn Frederick's (JJ Field) photography business in return for bed and board. He and capable cockney lad, Jim (Matt Smith), take on sidekick status as they are confronted by the vile and devious Mrs. Holland (Julie Walters in superb form) who will stop at nothing in order to secure the ruby for herself.

Matt narrates some small portions of the story via voice-over. Unfortunately, his `cor blimey' tones are a little grating here, and, thankfully, this device was not continued for the next story in the series, `The Shadow in the North'.

In this story, a weapon capable of widespread destruction has been invented. The villain of the piece is Axel Bellman (Jared Harris), a businessman who is not above using mass murder and blackmail to get what he wants. Sally has now gone into business as a financial consultant and is distressed to learn that one of her clients is close to financial ruin thanks to her advice to invest in a shipping company whose vessel has subsequently sunk in mysterious circumstances. The owner of this company? None other than Axel Bellmann. This tale also takes music hall acts and psychics into the mix as the faithful Jim and Frederick rejoin Sally in a new mystery.

The acting is uniformly excellent (notably from Julie Walters in the first story). Billie Piper grows into the lead role nicely. The first story calls for a more restrained and understated performance given her character's age and status. `The Shadow in the North' sees Sally blossom into a more determined and independent woman. This story is also a little lighter in tone than its predecessor; there's even room for a few jokes. I particularly enjoyed theatre manager, Bram Stoker (Owen Roe) reject the disappointed Jim's play script, "There's no future in vampire stories," Stoker informs him. In another scene, Sally visits the Patents Office to find out about Bellmann's business dealings. Here she encounters an awkward young clerk played to perfection by Nitin Ganatra. His mannerisms and facial expressions are hilarious and his discomfort is palpable when faced with the attractive Sally. His is just an incidental character, but I'm glad they included him. Both stories are highly visual with some stunning photography which captures the colourful opulence of the haves as well as the dingy squalor of the have-nots.

It would have been nice if some more bonus material could have been included such as cast and crew interviews or audio commentaries, but the Philip Pullman interview on the first disc is interesting as he talks about the process of writing his books and gives his thoughts on their translation to the small screen.

Both stories are quite involved, but utterly compelling, and with television of this quality repeated viewing is a pleasure.
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on 3 January 2014
Treat yourself to this wonderful double DVD and enjoy the performance of Miss Piper and supporting cast. I now see this lady in a new light, and the same can be said for Matt Smith. The pristine lifestyle and working conditions portrayed may be a little off the mark for the era depicted, however for shear entertainment, beautifully produced, this is by far the best purchase I have made in a long time. The story lines have everything, gritty, amusing and sadness too, they cry out to be watched over and over. One point to remember, they must be viewed in the correct order,that being "The Ruby in the Smoke" first. It will spoil everything if you don't.
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on 15 July 2013
The Ruby in the Smoke's adaptation here is a very enjoyable piece of television, capturing the spirit of adventure well and presenting a compelling tale along with it. It's well-acted, and it's especially lovely to see Matt Smith investing his usual energy into this early supporting role for him.

The Shadow in the North, however, suffers greatly from sticking far too close to its novel. It may make sense in the book for Rosa and Nicholas to be married and away from the main events of the novel, but their disappearance after a small cameo at the start of the film - replaced by a random elderly uncle who barely says a word for the entire ninety minutes - is so unnecessary it is almost laughable. The mystery is harder to follow and, with no personal connection to Sally or the others, far less interesting than The Ruby in the Smoke. There is no longer any sense of depth to the characters, not helped by the absence of Jim Taylor's narration (despite the same screenwriter being used). The continuity between the two films is poor elsewhere too, with no explanation for Sally's career development or moving into her own rooms, and no reference to little Adelaide despite the first film ending with a determination not to give up the search for her.

Conclusion: get this for the first film, and watch the second as a mild curiosity. In hindsight, it's not hard to see why the remaining two novels were never adapted.
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Two ninety minute Victorian melodramas set amongst much murkiness. "The Ruby in the Smoke" has young Sally doggedly investigating her father's death, the search to involve opium and a priceless jewel. Mrs Holland ("I will cut off her head and dance on it!") leads the villains that pursue. Meanwhile corpses mount. "The Shadow in the North" concerns an apparent insurance scam and a weapon of mass destruction. Both adventures are atmospheric and enjoyable. Be advised close attention is needed, for aspects confuse a bit.

Disc 1 contains a twenty minute bonus where author Philip Pullman disarmingly discusses his craft. Great is his praise for both Billie Piper's Sally and Julie Walters, the latter's Mrs Holland exactly as he imagined her.

Already a good buy, there is now the extra attraction of the double "Doctor Who" link - one of the Doctor's most popular former companions here starring with future Doctor Matt Smith. Who would have thought!
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on 28 February 2010
I enjoyed the two stories. The plot is set in victorian London. In the first episode we meet Sally Lockhart, apprehend her story and follow her in the first mistery in which she finds herself entagled. And we meet her new friends, who will help her. All taken into account it's an amusing product. A bit naive, perhaps, in the outlining of such an independent woman in the victorian era, but almost enjoyable. I think I'll buy others of the same sequel.
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VINE VOICEon 19 January 2008
Adapting books for the screen is always a hard thing to do. When it's adapted for the TV it can become worrying. But this set is actually enjoyable.
Billie Piper does a good job being Sally Lockhart, and a good supportive cast help to make this a good program.
People will always say the books are better....of course they are. But in terms of other screen efforts this is an exciting program that all the family will enjoy. Mine certainly did!
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on 1 March 2016
Reasonably good stories, fairly well acted by the supporting cast. Very authentic settings and costumes.
Billie Piper is excellent as the heroine and makes her a strong young woman whom the stories' weaker or more vulnerable personalities will feel safe with, whom men will fall quickly in love with, and whom the villains will be thoroughly tested by.
It struck me that the police play no part in these murder mysteries, and I was slightly unhappy with the number of uninvolved characters who suddenly appeared, at great personal effort, to appear out of alleyways or through doorways in order to give the protagonists a vital clue towards solving each case.
Genuinely scary at times, and certainly not for children. Well worth watching, but not in the same class as, say, Ripper Street or Mr. Whicher. Worth four stars, though, but only just.
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on 10 June 2014
A very honest performance by some of the most talented actors of our generation (Billie Piper, Matt Smith, JJ Feild, Julie Walters, to name but a few). The writer Adrian Hodges obviously tried his best to stay as close as possible to the wonderful books written by Philip Pullman, and yet avoided the traps most TV adaptations fall into, such as going as far as making the camera moves follow the exact words. Television and wrinting each have their own codes and this particular adaptation seems not to have overlooked that fact. It is a very pleasant way to spend a couple of evenings, whether you are a fan of the original series or not.
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