Based on Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize-winning novel, the long-awaited six-part series The Luminaries is set to star Casino Royale’s Eva Green, and has been adapted for television by Catton herself.
The show is an epic six-part series, billed as “an intricately woven, suspenseful tale of love, murder, magic, and revenge,” and centres around a young woman framed for murder.
Following the first look at The Luminaries, here’s everything you need to know about the series, including cast, plot, air-date and trailer details.
When is The Luminaries on TV?
CONFIRMED: The Luminaries will begin on Sunday 21st June at 9pm on BBC One.
Episode two will follow on Monday 22nd June at 9pm, and the six-part series will continue on Sunday nights thereafter. In addition, the full series will be made available on BBC iPlayer immediately after the first episode airs.
The series was originally due to air on BBC Two, but has since been moved to BBC One.
RadioTimes.com will also be hosting a special Q&A with the stars of The Luminaries on 19th June – here’s how you can join!
What is The Luminaries about?
Set on New Zealand’s South Island during the 19th century gold rush, the story follows a large cast of characters — in the book, they’re variously associated with one of the Zodiac signs or planets within in the solar system.
The book begins with the arrival of Walter Moody, who believes he’s seen a “phantom” onboard a ship. Staggering into the smoking room of a hotel in Hokitika, he happens upon an odd assortment of 12 men, who are preoccupied with a series of dark, mysterious events…
However, it sounds like the drama will be structured somewhat differently, centring the characters of Anna Wetherell and Emery Staines from the beginning.
According to the official synopsis, “The Luminaries tells an epic story of love, murder and revenge, as men and women travelled across the world to make their fortunes. It is a 19th century tale of adventure and mystery, set on the Wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island in the boom years of the 1860s gold rush.
“The story follows defiant young adventurer Anna Wetherell, who has sailed from Britain to New Zealand to begin a new life. There she meets the radiant Emery Staines, an encounter that triggers a strange kind of magic that neither can explain. As they fall in love, driven together and apart by fateful coincidence, these star-crossed lovers begin to wonder: do we make our fortunes, or do our fortunes make us?”
Who wrote The Luminaries?
The novel was written by Eleanor Catton and published in 2013, and it won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for that year. Catton herself has written the screenplay, whittling her epic 848-page novel down to a six-hour drama for the BBC.
Catton also recently wrote the screenplay for the 2020 movie Emma, adapted from the Jane Austen novel and starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn and Josh O’Connor.
Eleanor Catton on the set of The Luminaries (BBC)
Why is it called “The Luminaries”?
One meaning of the word “luminary” (plural: luminaries) is a “natural light-giving body”; it can be used to refer to the sun or moon, or a planet or a star. And these celestial bodies are crucial to the structure of the novel, because writer Eleanor Catton has built the characters and the plot around astrology and astronomy. In doing so she has added another layer of meaning to the story.
In the novel, the characters each align with a sign of the zodiac or a planetary body (like Mercury, or the moon). The story starts on 27th January 1866, a day when there was a “triple convergence in the heavens” with three planets in Sagittarius, and the characters’ interactions shaped by the real-life positions of the celestial bodies on those dates. The chapter lengths also exactly follow the pattern of the waning moon as they decrease in length.
In addition, the character Lydia Wells (Eva Green) presents herself as a psychic and fortune-teller. And in the TV adaptation, much is made of the idea of Anna (Eve Hewson) and Emery (Himesh Patel) as “astral twins”, born at very same moment in time and sharing a common destiny.
How similar will The Luminaries be to the book?
“It’s very different from the book, I can tell you that much,” Himesh Patel told RadioTimes.com in an interview at the South Bank Show Awards in July. “Eleanor Catton, who wrote the novel and won the Man Booker for it, she adapted it herself, into six parts… And she’s done such an amazing job of telling her story from a different point of view.
“It was really interesting reading her novel and then reading what Eleanor’s done with it, and I’m very excited to see how it turns out.
“We spent five months in New Zealand shooting that. Such a beautiful country in so many ways, [I had a] really great time.
“It is really compelling what she’s done. It’s not like she’s ripping up the rule book, it’s her own work — it’s interesting when a writer has adapted her own novel.”
On adapting her Man Booker-winning novel, Catton said in a statement: “I’ve had tremendous fun adapting this novel for the screen and feel incredibly lucky to be working with such fantastic people across different art forms. Writing a novel is a solitary business, but writing for the screen is emphatically collaborative, and to see the world of The Luminaries enlarged and enriched in ways that go far beyond the scope of my own imagination has been a humbling and hugely exhilarating experience.
“I couldn’t be happier that the brilliant Claire McCarthy is at the helm, and I can’t wait to see this incredible cast bring the story to life.”
Who stars in The Luminaries?
Leading The Luminaries cast, Bridge of Spies actress Eve Hewson (pictured left) plays adventurer Anna Wetherell, a sex worker living in Hokitika, opposite Himesh Patel (EastEnders), who plays Emery Staines.
Joining the cast are Casino Royale and Penny Dreadful star Eva Green, who plays the ruthless and calculating brothel madam Lydia Wells; The Cry actor Ewen Leslie as Crosbie Wells; and New Zealand actor Marton Csokas as Francis Carver.
Further cast includes Erik Thomson, Benedict Hardie, Yoson An and Richard Te Are.
Is there a trailer for The Luminaries?
Yes! Here’s the official trailer from the BBC:
The Luminaries is coming soon to BBC One. While you’re waiting, visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.