The BBC’s His Dark Materials TV show is right around the next Oxford cloister and it looks like the team behind it have finally done justice to Philip Pullman’s excellent coming-of-age novels.
Of course, this is not the first time Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels have been adapted for the screen; Northern Lights was bafflingly re-titled The Golden Compass for both American readers (see what I did there?) and a cinema outing which should have more accurately been re-titled Nicole Kidman’s Nazi-occupied, Parisien Steampunk Coco Chanel advert.
Granted, it’s not easy to capture the look, feel, terror and magic of a parallel universe in which souls are manifested by animal familiar daemons, evil-doers surgically rip children’s souls from their bodies and armoured polar bears go to war. It’s also nigh-on impossible to jam such a rich universe into a two-hour film. That’s just one of many reasons this eight-part first season (covering the events of the best of the novels; Northern Lights) already looks to be more in tune with the source material.
The most important element this His Dark Materials TV show gets right is its protagonist. Lyra is one of those courageous, adolescent literary tearaway tomboys whose feisty scrappiness jumps off the page to make you fall in love with them. The kind of daughter that would make you proud just knowing you helped mould her, like how Atticus Finch must’ve felt about Scout (while allowing her the freedom to roam Maycomb County or scramble across Oxford University rooftops.)
Ironically, The Golden Compass’ Nicole Kidman overshadowed and upstaged Dakota Blue Richards so much, it felt as if Mrs Coulter’s evil plan to remove Lyra’s soul had actually worked. So when I heard that Logan’s Dafne Keen was to play Lyra, I knew it was the right decision. If a young actress has the adamantium balls to play Wolverine’s daughter, then she can play Lyra.
Not only does Dafne Keen have grit, fearlessness and moxie but she also has dark hair... unlike whoever the hell thought it was okay to give her curly strawberry blonde hair in The Golden Compass. I know that’s splitting hairs, but come on… a character named Lyra Belacqua obviously has Romany heritage somewhere along the line.
The His Dark Materials TV show pulls together some incredible talent. James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel while Ruth Wilson steps into Mrs Coulter’s shoes, hopefully without upstaging Lyra. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda plays American hot-air balloon adventurer Lee Scoresby while Ruta Gedmintas plays Queen of the Lake Enara Witches, Serafina Pekkala – who better have black hair!
After cutting his teeth on Skins, Shameless, Cast Offs, This is England ’88, The Fades and the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stageplay, garnering five BAFTAs in the process, Bristolian Jack Thorne writes all eight episodes.
Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) Dawn Shadforth (Trust) and Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders) direct, while the series is co-produced by New Line Cinema with Doctor Who’s Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner’s Los Angeles-based Bad Wolf production company for the BBC and HBO.
If I had to find a downside, the His Dark Materials TV show’s Oxford resembles the movie’s steampunk version a soupcon too much and, unfortunately, evergreen Eva Green won’t be back as Serafina, but apart from that, I’m on board.
And the best part? Rumours out of Cardiff are for forty episodes across five series and season two has already been commissioned – always a good indicator.
His Dark Materials TV show will arrive on BBC One and be distributed globally by HBO in late 2019.