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, with the BBC’s upcoming televised version of the beloved trilogy of novels (starring Dafne Keen in the role of gutsy, fierce hero Lyra) soon coming to screens.
When is the BBC’s His Dark Materials on TV?
His Dark Materials’ first episode will air on BBC1 on Sunday 3rd November at 8.00pm, the BBC has revealed, and will be available on HBO internationally from the 4th November.
The first series will cover the events of Northern Lights, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Filming took place predominantly in Cardiff at Wolf Studios Wales, with some production work on location 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 he was “looking forward immensely to seeing how it looks.”
The second series will follow the events of sequel The Subtle Knife over another eight episodes, while the as-yet unconfirmed series three would adapt The Amber Spyglass over a potentially longer number of episodes.
Is there a trailer for His Dark Materials?
Yes, quite a few! The latest footage was uploaded by HBO months after the original trailer debuted at San Diego Comic-Con. It shows off all sorts of exciting moments from the book, including an extended look at Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Lee Scoresby and Ruth Wilson’s Mrs Coulter.
Earlier, the first teaser packed in quite a bit, including an introduction to some major characters, a glimpse of some key scenes and a look at the alethiometer, the ‘Golden Compass’ that always points Lyra towards the truth…
James McAvoy will star as Lord Asriel, with The Affair’s Ruth Wilson 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.
Dafne Keen (Getty, EH)
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.
Also joining the cast is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony award-winning creator and star of musicals Hamilton and In the Heights as well as Mary Poppins Returns. Miranda will play balloonist and explorer Lee Scoresby.
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.
Following on from that it was revealed that Sherlock star Andrew Scott would also be joining the cast, playing explorer and shaman Jopari (aka Stanislaus Grumman) in the currently-filming second series.
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.
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.
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 many episodes of His Dark Materials will there be?
The first series will comprise of eight episodes, taking us through to events at the end of the trilogy’s first novel.
A second series – also of eight episodes – has already been commissioned, and is currently in the process of filming.
Where was His Dark Materials Filmed?
Although some of the shoot was filmed on location – with the crew travelling to Oxford, where Philip Pullman himself made an appearance to meet the cast, and Sharpness – the bulk of the series was actually filmed indoors at Bad Wolf studios in Cardiff.
Executive Producer Jane Tranter said that she had always had a “strong Spidey-sense” that the best way to do the show was indoors – and given how magical the world looks on screen, it’s probably fair to say that her intuition hasn’t failed her!
One other deviation from the studio filming concerns the scenes set in Trollesund, where the crew built an entire town out of nothing in Crickhowell, near Abergavenny in South Wales (pictured above).
We thought so! In our first-look review we called it “an engaging and sumptuous take on Pullman’s world that cleaves impressively close to the books while still making a few tweaks for the visual medium,” with particular praise for Ruth Wilson’s performance and the production design of the series.
The setting of His Dark Materials, both in terms of time and place, may seem confusing to some viewers. Yes, the place names Oxford and London are hardly unfamiliar to those watching the show – but the Oxford and London we see on our screen seems very different to the ones we know – and nor do they obviously represent the places as they were at any particular point in history.
The answer to the question of where and when the series is set is actually quite complicated – Lyra is inhabiting an alternative version of our world, albeit one that is occurring parallel to our own – more on that as the series progresses.
We’ve answered the question in a bit more depth here.
James McAvoy as Lord Asriel in His Dark Materials (BBC)
Yes – elements of Philip Pullman’s later trilogy, which begins with a prequel to His Dark Materials that features Lyra as a baby, are included in the first episode of the TV adaptation.
“We discussed it with Philip Pullman who very kindly gave us permission to include this element,” Thorne and Tranter told RadioTimes.com.
“We’ve used it very carefully as readers of the Book of Dust will realise. But we think it gives the series the epic beginning it deserves.”
You can read a full description of the Book of Dust flashback, as well as more exclusive photos of the scene, here.
How faithful is His Dark Materials to the books?
This question is likely to be very important to die-hard fans of Pullman’s trilogy – many of whom were bitterly disappointed with the alterations made to the story when it was released on the big screen back in 2007.
Fans of the books will therefore be delighted to learn that, by and large, the series is remarkably faithful to Pullman’s vision. James McAvoy – a self-confessed fan of the books – described it as a pretty loving and faithful adaptation, and we tend to agree.
We have managed to spot a few changes though – take a look at them here.
What is Dust?
As with any fantasy world, there are a few concepts in the His Dark Materials universe that require a bit of explaining – and without question one of those things is Dust, a mysterious element which various characters talk about in hushed tones and excited voices.
The trouble is it’s difficult to give a concise, easy answer to the question of what Dust is – in fact rather a large chunk of Pullman’s trilogy is concerned with answering that question.
At the very basic level, Dust refers to particles that seem to exert great influence in Pullman’s world – but we’ve gone in to a little bit more detail about it here.
Who are the Gyptians?
The Gyptians are a fictional ethnic group who tend to dwell close to the water, living and travelling on boats. Although they play quite a big part in the books, it seems that in the TV show we’re getting an even closer look at the Gyptians – with several scenes added for the series – including one in the first episode which sees a coming of age ceremony for tony Costa.
The Gyptians become close allies with Lyra, and the groups most prominent members in the trilogy include Farder Coram, played on the show by James Cosmo, John Faa, portrayed by Lucien Msamati and Ma Costa, played by Anne-Marie Duff.