HIS DARK MATERIALS
One of the biggest literary successes to emerge from the UK, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, are finally getting the adaptation they deserve. Buzz takes a look ahead at what to expect.
This autumn sees the arrival of the long-awaited TV adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books hitting our TV screens. Even more excitingly, the show could not really have been filmed without Wales: indeed, “Made in Wales” sits proudly on the show poster.
Phillip Pullman’s supremely complex novels have been waiting for an adaptation to do them justice since the release of Northern Lights (renamed The Golden Compass in North America) in 1995. It tells the story of Lyra Belacqua (and Will Parry in subsequent novels), as she navigates through parallel worlds, with much of the story an allegory critical of organised religion and oppression. There have been adaptation attempts before: an acclaimed stage version in 2004, and a big-screen adaptation in 2007 which starred Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman and was not hugely well received by audiences or critics.
Wales-based studio Bad Wolf have led the charge on putting the series into production, with Pinewood Studios here in Cardiff and the wilds of the Brecon Beacons providing a glorious backdrop for the series’ fantastical imagination. Series star Lin Manuel-Miranda professed to have fallen in love with the capital on his social media, conjuring up a string of guest appearances at Porters’ open mic nights in Cardiff.
At the premiere of the first episode in Cardiff, Buzz caught up with Clarke Peters, one of the show’s all-star cast. “I’d seen His Dark Materials at the National Theatre. I heard discussions about how flimsily it was treated in [2007 film] The Golden Compass and I was encouraged to read the book, which is sitting on my son’s shelf. I thought this is another kids’ book, but I got into that and realised this isn’t a kid’s book – this has got some nuances in here that some adults should be looking at.”
The crucial difference is that now, as a TV series adapted by Jack Thorne (This Is England, Shameless, Skins), far less of the nuance and complexity of the original books is going to be lost. Peters continues, “The book is so dense that you really can’t even tell the story of just the first book in two hours, so for them to try that undertaking [in the previous film], they must have known an enormous amount of nuance and information was going to be lost. And here, we’ve got maybe eight hours to tell that over and that’s just for the first book.”
Speaking at the Q&A after, alongside stars Peters, Ruth Wilson, Dafne Keen and production designer Joel Collins, executive producer and Bad Wolf founder Jane Tranter reiterates the point.
“The TV adaptation has committed to adapting Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. We won’t wash down anything, believe me. We will adapt what Philip Pullman writes, which is essentially, he does not like anything in society which suppresses knowledge or oppresses the people. It’s not an attack on organised religion per se, it’s an attack on absolutely anybody who tries to seek control by suppressing the truth. And sadly, there’s never been a more appropriate time to adapt these books.
“So, the words ‘watering down’ are simply not in the vocabulary of people who are making His Dark Materials and nor are they in the vocabulary of the BBC and HBO, who are working with us on this. Any of the themes, any of the resonances that you are picking up on in the novels, you will see in our adaptation.”
Interviews by Carl Marsh. Additional research by Sophie Bates and Fedor Tot. His Dark Materials premieres on Sun 3 Nov on BBC One and on iPlayer afterwards. Episodes weekly. Info: www.bad-wolf.com
Dafne Keen – Lyra Belacqua. Series star – much of the film’s power will rest on her young shoulders.
Where have I seen her before? Logan
Ruth Wilson – Marisa Coulter
Where have I seen her before? Luther, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, Dark River
James McAvoy – Lord Asriel
Where have I seen him before? X-Men, Shameless, Split
Clarke Peters – The Master / Dr. Carne
Where have I seen him before? The Wire, Treme
Anne-Marie Duff – Ma Costa
Where have I seen her before? Shameless, On Chesil Beach
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Lee Scoresby
Where have I seen him before? Hamilton
Did You Know?
Filming for second series has already been completed before the first series airs. Filming for first series ended in December 2018, with second series filming starting in July 2019. The two had to be close together because lead role Dafne Keen is 14, so it needed to appear convincing.
The books took inspiration from Milton’s Paradise Lost, which heavily criticised organised religion, which is also where the title for The Golden Compass came from.
The Catholic League campaigned against the books and tried to boycott film version of The Golden Compass, claiming it promotes atheism and attacks the Catholic Church.
The books were number eight on a list of the top 100 banned/challenged books list for the period 2000-2009 in the USA.
The 2004 theatre version ambitiously tried to adapt all three books into one show – split into two parts which were alternated night by night.