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His Dark Materials season 3 to delve into Mrs Coulter’s backstory

Ruth Wilson has revealed that the final season of the Philip Pullman adaptation will lift the lid on her villainous character’s family.

Ruth Wilson
Published: Sunday, 22nd May 2022 at 8:51 pm
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The BBC/HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials has been known for adding to and lightly altering Philip Pullman’s source material, with the hit fantasy series sometimes even delving into Pullman’s later trilogy The Book of Dust for extra material.

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And now it seems the creative team will be expanding the world again in the upcoming third (and final) season, with actor Ruth Wilson revealing that the show will delve into the family backstory of her character Mrs Coulter in an upcoming episode.

“It’s quite interesting, because this season we make a reference to her mother,” Wilson told the crowd at the BFI and Radio Times Television Festival during the His Dark Materials: Creating Mrs Coulter panel.

“We actually have some sort of outfits that are her mother’s, that are sent to Mrs Coulter. In my head, [she’s] linked up to the Magisterium, the Church.

“Mrs Coulter’s mother was very much part of the Church. So that actually represents, for her, rules and patriarchy. And I think that Mrs Coulter was always a disappointment to her mother in that way.”

“I think her mother is meant to be incredibly religious, but also I think very much about appearance,” costume designer Caroline McCall added.

“So I think this whole façade of appearance comes from her mother. There’s a moment where this outfit’s meant to encompass a lot of what we’ve seen before.

“You’ll see that my reaction to those outfits is not necessarily very nice,” Wilson said. “Being reminded of my mother again, and her power, and her influence.”

While Mrs Coulter’s family aren’t included within the original His Dark Materials trilogy, they – including her mother, Madame Delamare – do make an appearance in Pullman’s 2019 novel The Secret Commonwealth, suggesting that His Dark Materials season three may be drawing inspiration from that later work.

Previously, scenes from Pullman's 2017 book La Belle Sauvage (which takes place before the main His Dark Materials trilogy) were adapted for His Dark Materials' first season, with an opening flashback taken from the close of the more recent novel. Clearly, even hardcore fans can still expect a few surprises as the adaptation continues.

During the panel, Wilson and McCall were also joined by creature FX designer (and Golden Monkey puppeteer) Brian Fisher and VFX supervisor Russell Dodgson, with the quartet lifting the lid on how they collaborated to bring Mrs Coulter – and her simian dæmon – to life over the course of the show.

In practice, this meant Fisher being on set at all times to play the scenes with Wilson, as well as hundreds of days of work behind-the-scenes for Dodgson’s VFX team to bring the onscreen version of Mrs Coulter’s monkey inner self to life.

“The biggest and most exciting challenge of the show, which I found out very quickly when starting, is the duty of care that we have to the cast,” Dogson told the crowd.

“If you have Ruth Wilson, who just brings her A game constantly, and is incredible and doing a lot of really emotive work, and your job is to stick a monkey in the shot with them […] you can undermine Ruth’s work.

“But then what I have to do is I have to sit down and I have to remind what everybody's goals are in a scene, what's missing and what Mrs Coulter’s trying to get out of other people.”

“Monkey is a part of me now,” Fisher said. “So I feel quite protective over him and I really care about all the animators and the people that have put Monkey to the place that he is on screen. It's so many ideas coming together.”

His Dark Materials returns to BBC One and HBO this autumn. For more, check out our dedicated Fantasy page or our full TV Guide.

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