His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman defends earlier film adaptation

The Golden Compass cast and crew “did the best that could be done” the writer has said

Philip Pullman with the cast of His Dark Materials (BBC, Getty)

It’s fair to say that the new BBC version of His Dark Materials has been a success so far, with the Philip Pullman adaptation pulling in record-breaking numbers of viewers and attracting a positive critical response.

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However, the original novel’s author Philip Pullman has noted that he hopes this doesn’t mean people look too unfavourably on the previously-attempted screen translation of his work, 2007 movie The Golden Compass, which is generally remembered unsympathetically by fans.

“Delighted as I am with the TV adaptation of [His Dark materials, I don’t want to be too critical of [The Golden Compass] movie,” he wrote on Twitter.

“A magnificent cast, among whom [Lyra actor] Dakota Blue Richards shone like the polar star, did the best that could be done with the time they had, which simply wasn’t enough.”

Starring Daniel Craig, Sam Elliot, Nicole Kidman and Ian McKellen among others, The Golden Compass has often been regarded as a missed opportunity by Pullman’s fans, with a popular cast undermined by extreme changes to the events of first novel Northern Lights and a removal of religious themes.

Following the film’s poor performance, a planned trilogy of movies was scrapped – and Jane Tranter, executive producer of the new BBC translation of Pullman’s work seems to agree with Pullman about the film’s weaknesses, suggesting that the longer-form approach of TV made a better fit for His Dark Materials.

“I think that what the film lacked that the television series has is size,” Jane Tranter, executive producer of His Dark Materials, told RadioTimes.com and other publications.

“I like the breadth as well as depth that television offers. And I think actually having that space to adapt the books is part of the thing that made it less daunting and gave us the courage to do it. We just had to follow the path. And the film could not do that.”

“We spent a good amount of time talking to Philip [Pullman] before launching forward with the adaptation. And we asked Philip questions about the characters,” Tranter added.

“One of the brilliant things he does is that there is hinterland to the characters outside of what they’re just doing on the page. And he leaves these little threads lying around – it’s become our job to pull that thread and see where it might go.

“It was like asking him ‘so this character is offscreen for this period in the book – what were they doing?'”

In other words, TV probably is the best way to bring Philip Pullman’s words alive onscreen – but that doesn’t mean we need to be unkind to others for trying.

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His Dark Materials airs on BBC1 on Sundays at 8.00pm