Philip Pullman’s astonishing fantasy series has sold over 18 million copies and is an unquestionable contemporary classic of children’s literature. Though there was an attempted franchise started with 2007’s The Golden Compass, the beloved quadrilogy (a prequel to the trilogy was released in 2017) has yet to have a truly successful adaptation. But with the BBC’s upcoming miniseries, hopefully that’s all about to change! So settle in, grab your dæmon, and get ready to learn everything that we know about the upcoming His Dark Materials adaptation.
Update, 9/11/18: With filming now underway in Cardiff, according to Deadline the BBC has doubled down on His Dark Materials and placed a two season order on the show. Each series—the UK term for a single season—will feature eight episodes, promising big thrills from what's expected to be one of the most expensive British scripted shows ever produced.
Beware! This piece contains minor spoilers for the His Dark Materials series!
WHAT IS HIS DARK MATERIALS?
The His Dark Materials trilogy was unleashed upon the world in 1995 with Northern LightsA.K.A. The Golden Compass, which follows a young rambunctious girl named Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon—the soul of a deceased human that inhabits the body of an animal and is Lyra’s companion—Pantalaimon. The pair live freely in the grounds of an alt-universe Oxford University alongside Lyra’s strange and elusive uncle. Lyra is the ward of the college master until her friend is abducted and our hero is drawn into a fantastical conspiracy as she attempts to save him. As she continues her adventures, Lyra discovers a mysterious substance called Dust, which appears to be the key to opening the door to other worlds… including one that seems very much like ours.
Set in a magical world ruled by an oppressive international theocracy, the book has been critiqued for being pointedly atheist, which drew a lot controversy upon its release. But it soon became a beloved children’s classic despite (or maybe because of) the political background against which the world is set.
A complex and unexpected hit that never underestimated its young audience, the book was followed up two years later by a sequel The Subtle Knife.
The sequel to Pullman’s award-winning book opens up the world of Northern Lights, as we follow Lyra through a magical portal between universes where she meets a new young companion called Will. Lyra learns more about the mystical Dust and comes across multiple magical characters, including some incredibly powerful witches. The titular Subtle Knife is a mythical object that can allegedly split the walls that separate dimensions. When Will becomes its bearer, the pair have to fight for their lives and the universe.
The final installment of the trilogy was released in the year 2000, and is one of the most astoundingly rich and satisfying young adult books ever written. It was even the first children’s book to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize! Pullman lives up to the fantasy threads that he’s woven through the first two books with an all-out spectacular that heavily focuses on angels, armor-wearing bears, harpies, and ghosts. It’s also a rare YA book that allows its protagonist to grow up, as Lyra begins to feel sexual attraction (though this passage was edited in the US edition). The Amber Spyglass is the most heavily analogous of the three books and also seems almost unadaptable, so we’re very excited to see what the creative team comes up with.
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
Production has begun on the series, which is a co-production between Bad Wolf and New Line Cinema (making this New Line’s first British television project) for the BBC. It will be written by Jack Thorne, who penned the smash hit Harry Potter stage sequel Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the first two installments of the eight episode series will be directed by the Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper. The miniseries will span all three of the original books.
The official His Dark Material Twitter account has been sharing little glimpses of the burgeoning production, including these behind-the-scenes teases:
WHO ARE THE MAJOR PLAYERS?
Dafne Keen is Lyra Belacqua
Anyone who’s seen Logan will know this is inspired casting, as you need a powerhouse actor to take on a character as iconic as Lyra. Keen is also pretty close to our protagonist’s age, which is a rare treat for a prestige TV show. We cannot wait to see what Keen will do with the vast, expansive, and complex role of Lyra, as she makes this vital, timeless character her own.
James McAvoy is Lord Asriel
It’s an X-Family reunion as young Charles Xavier himself will be playing Lord Asriel, Lyra’s enigmatic and dangerous uncle. Asriel is a key part of Lyra’s story and McAvoy has already proved himself a dab hand at working within the world of fantasy. Those of us who were lucky enough to catch him in the BBC radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere have an idea of just how deftly McAvoy can create characters perfectly suited to the expansive world of invention that Pullman has crafted with His Dark Materials.
Ruth Wilson is Mrs. Coulter
Fans of the BBC’s brilliant crime thriller Luther know that Ruth Wilson can perfectly walk the line between villain and antihero, which makes her a wonderful choice for the terrifying Mrs. Coulter. Another key player in the series, an apparently kind and gentle Mrs. Coulter takes on Lyra as her adopted daughter in the first book Northern Lights. But like pretty much everything else in the world of His Dark Materials, all is not what it seems…
Lin Manuel Miranda is Lee Scoresby
Of the many friends that Lyra makes on her adventure, Lee Scoresby is definitely one of the most interesting. The Texan aeronaut gives Lyra safe passage in his hot air balloon before becoming a surrogate father to the young girl as she searches for answers.
Ariyon Bakare is Lord Boreal
Lord Boreal is a fearsome foe who’s not to be trifled with, and is a main antagonist in the series. He first comes across Lyra at a party held by the malicious Mrs. Coulter, but other than that it’s hard to say more without revealing some pretty major plot points. Luckily, we can say a lot about the brilliant actor who’s portraying him, who you might recognize from 2017’s scary sci-fi Life, or the BBC’s wonderful adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The latter is actually a perfect televisual appetizer if you’re in the mood for a period fantasy drama with plenty of magic whilst you wait for His Dark Materials.
Lewin Lloyd is Roger Parslow
The spark that lights the fire of His Dark Materials, Lyra’s best friend Roger Parslow will be played by Lewin Lloyd in what will likely be his first major role. Roger is a loyal and brave friend who means the world to Lyra, and their journey together leads Lyra to closer to the terrifying truth about Dust and Lord Asriel.
Other cast members include Black Mirror’s Georgina Campbell, Game of Thrones‘ James Cosmo, The Wire’s Clarke Peters, Shameless star Anne-Marie Duff, The Crown’s Will Keen (who also happens to be Dafne’s father!), Lucien Msamati, Simon Manyonda, Archie Barnes, Daniel Frogson, and Tyler Howitt.
Check back for more info on the His Dark Materials miniseries as it hits the airwaves! We’ll be keeping a lookout.
Images: Disney, BBC, 20th Century Fox