Fun night out at the special NFT preview of “The Ruby in the Smoke” last night. Many of the cast and crew were also there, and after the showing m’colleague Matthew Sweet asked questions of Philip Pullman (who wrote the book), Adrian Hodges (who adapted it) and JJ Feild (who plays Fred ).
Soon after the death of her father at sea, Veronica "Sally" Lockhart (Billie Piper) receives an illiterate warning that she too is in danger. Soon she’s killed a man and is running for her life, pursued by the vicious Mrs Holland (Julie Walters)…
It’s a sumptuous, break-neck adventure – perhaps a little too much plot crammed into the time, and sometimes tricky to follow. Since it’s consciously aping the penny dreadful thriller, perhaps an episodic version would have worked a bit better, on the same model as last year’s Bleak House.
I also thought the whole thing owed much to the Sign of Four, only told from the perspective of the future Mrs Watson.
The cast are all strong, Julie Waters brilliantly grotesque, and it’s good to see Billie in her first starring role. However, the rocketing plot means there’s little chance to show much depth of character. Grisly killings pepper the story from start to finish, so there’s also little time to get to know many of the supporting players.
Brian Percival also directed the stunning North and South, and there’s a similar richness of detail in this adaptation. The historical accuracy is a little off, though – you didn’t get opium dens until the very end of the 19th century, when the stuff was no longer available freely and legally. And nor would a Victorian girl have ever heard the word “spiv”.
But as Pullman said in answer to a question, he’s happy to ignore the historical facts in favour of a gripping adventure. Perhaps he should read Matthew’s splendid book on the far stranger, real Victorians.
Afterwards there were drinkies and I got to meet Alex Fitch, another of Big Finish’s scribblers.