Fans of Philip Pullman’s cult fantasy book series His Dark Materials have waited decades for a great on-screen adaptation (many discount the widely-panned film version starring Daniel Craig).
Now, it seems as though they might just get their wish, as production has begun for the BBC’s upcoming televised version of the beloved trilogy of novels, starring Dafne Keen in the role of gutsy, fierce hero Lyra.
Here’s everything you need to know about the highly-anticipated fantasy drama.
The eight-part series will eventually air on BBC1, but no release date has been fixed.
Principal photography has begun in Cardiff at Wolf Studios Wales, and filming will also reportedly take place amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford, where the first instalment of the book series begins.
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child writer Jack Thorne is on board as screenwriter, while The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper is helming the project.
Philip Pullman said in a statement: “I’m delighted that the production is under way, and I’m looking forward immensely to seeing how it looks.”
Who will star in His Dark Materials?
James McAvoy had previously been revealed as Lord Asriel, but now we know that The Affair’s Ruth Wilson will join him as the magnetic and dangerous Mrs Coulter.
Dafne Keen, a British and Spanish child actor best known for her role as Wolverine’s daughter in Marvel’s Logan, will play our hero, Lyra, an orphan who’s raised by the Master and scholars of a (fictional) Oxford college, Jordan.
Also joining the cast is Lin Manuel Miranda, the Tony award-winning creator and star of musicals Hamilton and In the Heights. Miranda, who will be starring alongside Emily Blunt in the upcoming Mary Poppins sequel, will play balloonist and explorer Lee Scoresby.
The rumors are true. I'm headed back to 🇬🇧 for a couple of months. Via hot air balloon. With my daemon Hester in tow…
Stars including The Wire’s Clarke Peters, Black Mirror’s Georgina Campbell and Anne-Marie Duff also join the cast as the Master of Jordan College, journalist Adele Starminster and Ma Costa respectively. Game of Thrones’ James Cosmo will play elderly Gyptian Farder Coram.
The Crown’s Will Keen (Dafne’s father) will play Father MacPhail, a mysterious man whom Lyra meets at a London society party. Joining him there is Ariyon Bakare as Lord Boreal.
Completing the main cast of Gyptians are Lucien Msamati as John Faa, Mat Fraser as Raymond Van Geritt, Geoff Bell as Jack Verhoeven, and Simon Manyonda as Benjamin de Ruyter.
Daemon Pantalaimon will be played by young actor Archie Barnes, alongside Lewin Lloyd as Roger Parslow, Daniel Frogson as Tony Costa and Tyler Howitt.
However, while the extensive cast list does cover off many of the major characters, eagle-eyed fans of the books may notice that witch Serafina Pekkala, introduced in Northern Lights and a key figure in the trilogy, does not feature on the BBC’s cast list. There is also no mention of the bear Iorek.
But not to worry: Philip Pullman has reassured Radio Times readers that there are no plans to cut either Iorek or Serafina…
Where to start? The sweeping trilogy of novels – Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass – are set (at first) in Oxford, but in a pre-industrial parallel universe, where people are constantly accompanied by ‘daemons’: a physical manifestation of a person’s soul, which takes the form of an animal (or, in children’s cases, multiple animals, before it settles into one shape). Lord Asriel’s daemon is a snow leopard, while Marisa Coulter’s is a golden monkey.
12-year-old Lyra, whose daemon is called Pantalaimon, lives a happy existence running circles around the Jordan scholars, whom Lord Asriel, Lyra’s uncle, left her with as a baby. Instead of studying, she spends most of her days playing with kitchen boy Roger and their Oxford friends.
Things abruptly change, however, when the glamorous Mrs Coulter arrives at Jordan, offering to take Lyra away to live with her.
As filming began, screenwriter Thorne said: “His Dark Materials are the most beautiful set of books, taking us into a world of constant imagination. Reading them I was a massive fan, in adapting them I’ve increasingly felt in awe of them. It’s the constant invention, the way the story never sits still, and that the characters constantly surprise you. It’s been a joy being part of a creative team for this; from Tom’s incredible analytic mind and amazing eye, to Joel’s beautiful world building, to everyone else involved. And then there’s the cast, which has proved to be the cast of dreams, we are so lucky to have been able to entice them in.”
How closely will His Dark Materials follow the novels?
The first series will cover the first novel in the trilogy, Northern Lights, and it looks like it will be faithful to the storyline and atmosphere created by Pullman.
One thing we do know is that the VFX guys are taking this pretty seriously.
Production designer Joel Collins said: “The hardest thing in fantasy is trying to show a mass group of people what they’ve only previously seen in their minds.”
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