The Luminaries TV drama has made some major changes from the book

Eleanor Catton has adapted her own novel for the screen – and she's reframed the story from a new perspective.

Lydia and Anna in The Luminaries

Fans of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries may be surprised to find some significant changes from the original story when they tune into the TV adaptation on BBC One. 

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For one thing, there’s the total absence of Walter Moody from the first four episodes. That’s in stark contrast to the book, which memorably begins with the arrival of Scottish lawyer Mr Moody in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel in Hokitika.

Here, he meets 12 men who have gathered to puzzle over a set of strange and dramatic events which have led up to this this evening; Moody is then brought up to speed, before the next part of the story begins and more pieces of the jigsaw are revealed – until we come at last to the truth.

But in adapting her own novel for the screen, Eleanor Catton has taken a different approach – dispensing with this framing device and sidelining Walter Moody to a minor role towards the end of the series (when he’s played by Michael Sheasby).

Instead, Catton has chosen to centre two characters – Anna Wetherell (played by Eve Hewson) and Emery Staines (played by Himesh Patel) – and also put the spotlight on Lydia Wells (Eva Green).

The Luminaries - Himesh and Eve

In the novel, Anna and Emery are extremely important characters (symbolically representing the Moon and the Sun). However, they don’t actually appear ‘in person’ a great deal.

But with the total re-framing of The Luminaries for TV, we now spend the vast majority of our time following Emery and Anna’s journeys from the moment they meet onboard the ship to Dunedin. And we witness everything first-hand, rather than retold through one of the 12 men who Moody meets in that hotel bar.

Director Claire McCarthy said: “It is a re-telling and a different version of The Luminaries. It’s almost like we’ve reframed the story from a different point of view by vesting it in Anna’s character.”

But, she added: “There is so much richness in the book to draw from, and so many intricate details. The audience who are already fans of the novel will see that it’s Eleanor’s book but retold. The complexities and the richness of the book are intact.”

The Luminaries cast

After all, when you take an intricately-plotted, extraordinarily-complex 848-page book and turn it into a TV drama, you really do have to strip things back to basics and find a new way into the story.

For that reason, fans of the novel will find that a lot of things have not made the cut. Catton has simplified certain storylines to bring it down to a six-hour drama – and while many of the book’s characters do make an appearance, we don’t exactly spend a lot of time with people like Thomas Balfour or Aubert Gascoigne.

As Eleanor Catton herself has said: “When The Luminaries was first published, I knew the book so well that if someone opened the book at random and read out three or four words, I could finish the sentence – and then keep going, sometimes for more than a page. I can’t do that any more; in fact, when I open the novel now, it feels very alien and even a little frightening. I start to doubt that I was ever its author in the first place.

“The strangeness is partly due to the fact that the show reinvents the novel so thoroughly, turning the story inside out and back to front, beginning near the end of the book, splitting the narrative into two different timelines, and following characters who in the novel are important but largely obscured.”

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The Luminaries begins on Sunday 21st June at 9pm on BBC One, and will be available as a boxset on iPlayer immediately afterwards. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide