From throwing out the famous ‘dried fish’ scene, to carving out a larger role for the mysterious Lord Boreal, BBC One’s His Dark Materials has made plenty of changes from Phillip Pullman’s original novels. But the biggest of all: the very early introduction of Will Parry (Amir Wilson).
Although the first run of the fantasy show was only expected to dramatise the events of novel Northern Lights, Will Parry – a key character that first crops up in The Subtle Knife (the second book of His Dark Materials) – made a surprise appearance in episode five.
Why was Will written into the show so early? According to executive producer Jane Tranter, an unusual practical consideration hugely influenced the decision.
“Child actors’ hours are very limited. If we were only filming with Lyra [played by Dafne Keen], we’d still be shooting the first season now!” she explained at the BBC Writers’ Room Festival. “We had to put in Will and more adults and pick up the pace of it.”
Considering the tight regulations on child actors, it makes perfect sense why the series wouldn’t want to depend on one teen star. Due to Keen’s age (she’s currently aged 14), she’s only permitted to work for nine hours a day on set, with actual time acting limited to five hours in. And, as any director will tell you, several hours’ worth of filming may only equal a few minutes of usable footage.
It’s these tight filming restrictions on under-18s why TV productions often hire identical twins to film more in a single day. Dafne Keen, unfortunately for some, is one of a kind.
Of course, the team behind His Dark Materials also had a few other reasons for introducing Will Parry to the plot so early.
“The decision to bring Will forward was something that was in the first conversation that Jack [Thorne, writer] and I had,” Tranter explained.
“How do you take the first novel, which is very Lyra-focus, and then open out for The Subtle Knife and then for The Amber Spyglass, which really opens up? If we just keep it all about Lyra then you’re not beginning to develop [other characters] and it would be a shock when you get to season two.”
However, once the decision was made about Will’s early entrance, Tranter says his storyline easily fell into place.
“It sounds like it was some complicated thing, but it’s easy if you just follow Phillip Pullman’s timeline. Will actually has a timeline that starts earlier than the Subtle Knife.
“In the end, it just made sense to it.”
His Dark Materials continues at the later time of 9pm this Sunday on BBC One
BBC Cymru Wales, National Theatre Wales and BBC Writersroom Wales have recently opened their Wales Writer in Residence scheme for aspiring writers. You can find out more information here.