Thanks to the BBC, which has HBO on board to distribute the series worldwide, Philip Pullman's classic British trilogy of novels will set sail for the small screen for the first time, following the 2007 film The Golden Compass that didn't fare so well with critics. But will this new creation make up for Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman's foray into the fantasy epic, the film's unmade sequels leaving hero Lyra (literally) up in the air?
Our Alethiometer readings are looking good so far, with James McAvoy, Logan's X23 (Dafne Keen) and Amir Wilson as Will Parry. Don't know what on earth His Dark Materials refers to? This guide is for you and for those of us looking forward to visiting a parallel Oxford once more.
His Dark Materials sounds complicated -- and it is. Pullman sourced the title for his book trilogy from a poem by John Milton -- another work with big themes about religious deities -- but let's not go too far down that rabbit hole, with the basic plot of the first novel Northern Lights following Lyra as she attempts to save her best friend Roger from the Gobblers, nefarious people stealing away children to an icy fate.
"You once asked me what evil was." While the first teaser from the BBC (which you can view below) contained only snippets to, yes, tease us of what the characters look like, this proper trailer from HBO looks as slick as Pan's ermine fur. It also contains dialogue, which is exciting because it teases some of the bigger themes of the novels, including the idea of "evil". This could refer to Dust, a big concept that, as McAvoy's Lord Asriel suggests in the trailer, you're either "better off not understanding", discovering as the series unfolds or reading the Wikipedia page about it.
Aside from that, Ruth Wilson's Mrs. Coulter informs Lyra, "Now is the time to choose a side." This ominous advice could foreshadow later events the film didn't get the sequels to cover, including battles on a parallel universe scale. But yes, that's a little way down the track. Oh, and still no release date.
Though all it says is the show is "coming soon", we'll forgive the first teaser because of just how good it looks. We get McAvoy, Wilson, Keen and Lin Manuel Miranda embodying the old-fashioned and otherworldly parallel world of Pullman's novels, and there's Lyra peeking through a cupboard, no doubt from the first scene of the book trilogy that kicks off the epic story's events. The tone seems suitably dark, what with the guns and the defenestration and the cold-looking Oxford.
Release date, episodes and timing
Lyra's year is looking like 2019, according to IMDb, but we still don't know when exactly. But with the arrival of the first real trailer and the ending of Game of Thrones, the series could sail ashore soon. Excitingly, the BBC has already confirmed a second season is on its way, consisting of eight episodes like the first.
Writer Jack Thorne has proved himself on the epic fantasy front, after adapting Harry Potter and The Cursed Child for the stage, based on a story both he and J.K. Rowling developed. If the seasons follow the books, the first will tell Lyra's story in Northern Lights (called The Golden Compass in the US) and the second will cover book two: The Subtle Knife.
Tom Hooper leads direction with the first two episodes, his period pieces The King's Speech, Les Miserables and The Danish Girl seemingly a good stylistic match for Pullman's parallel cell phone-free Oxford. Otto Bathurst of Peaky Blinders is another exciting English-made director, taking on episodes four and five.
Speaking of Oxford, the real one saw the series filming last July, along with principal photography in Cardiff, Wales which began in June.
It'll air on the BBC, and HBO has secured worldwide distribution rights outside the UK. For those in the US, you can also subscribe to HBO's streaming service here (no TV required).
Of progress so far, Philip Pullman himself sounds satisfied. For his sake, let's hope this version of his books lives up to its promise.
Meet the cast
Look at all these big names, Pan! Except there's one gaping omission: the voice of armoured bear Iorek Byrnison, played by Ian McKellen in the movie... massive shoes to fill.
Recently, shoes that have been filled are those of the second most important kid going around: Will Parry. Will befriends Lyra in the second book, mainly because he's equal to her occasionally prickly personality. He'll be played by Amir Wilson of The Kid Who Would Be King and will no doubt take up most of his screen time in the second season. As a 12-year-old boy described as having "straight black eyebrows, dark hair with a strong, jutting jaw," Wilson might be perfect casting.
The rest of the cast we know so far:
- Dafne Keen as Lyra Belacqua
- James McAvoy as Lord Asriel
- Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter
- Ruta Gedmintas as Serafina Pekkala
- Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby
- Archie Barnes as Pantalaimon
- Clarke Peters as The Master of Jordan College
- Ian Gelder as Scholar Charles
- Will Keen as Father MacPhail
- Ariyon Bakare as Lord Boreal
- Georgina Campbell as Adele Starminster
- Anne-Marie Duff as Ma Costa
- James Cosmo as Farder Coram
- Lucian Msamati as John Faa
- Mat Fraser as Raymond Van Geritt
- Geoff Bell as Jack Verhoeven
- Simon Manyonda as Benjamin de Ruyter
- Lewin Lloyd as Roger Parslow
- Daniel Frogson as Tony Costa
- Tyler Howitt as Billy Costa
Keen might also be the perfect choice as Lyra based on her role as the fiery Laura/X-23 mutant in 2017's Logan. After unleashing Luther., McAvoy is, simply put, jacked for the role of Lord Asriel, a powerful scholar, explorer and aristocrat. Ruth Wilson is essentially Lyra's antagonist as Mrs. Coulter, a ruthless and glamorous academic, possibly channelling some of her cunning Alice from
On the magical side, Pullman's ethereal witch queen Serafina Pekkala goes to English actress Gedmintas, recently seen in Guillermo Del Toro's vampire series The Strain. For a peek of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Lee Scoresby (and his mustache), Gedmintas gave us this tweet.
What we know about the plot
The His Dark Materials Twitter account has been tweeting a few lines from Pullman's novels that give an idea of what aspects the series will cover.
The below one points to the parallel universe storyline the novels go into later down the track, which is good news given the film left us hungry to see that adventure told on-screen.
Aside from tweeting several of Pullman's character descriptions, the account also posted Pullman's description of what it would be like to part with your soul. In Lyra's parallel world, people's souls take the physical form of an animal and are called "daemons" (yes, with the "a").
Thorne said of progress to Radio Times last year, "It's at an exciting point where we're just throwing things at the page and trying to work out what works and what doesn't."
Like Game of Thrones and the Watchmen graphic novel,, the small screen format looks better suited to Materials' complex story.
"The advantage of television is we can slow down," Thorne said in the same interview. "In the film and on stage they had so much plot to get through, so much plot to churn through, whereas we've got the luxury of having time to get to know Lyra, and spend time in her world."
Having enough time played a part in George R.R. Martin's decision to go for TV adaptation, the writer actually referencing the Golden Compass' unmade sequels when he spoke to Time about the series in 2017.
"It was all, 'Oh, we'll make one film, and if it's a big hit, we'll make more.' Well, that doesn't always work out, as you found out if you know about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials," Martin said. "If the first one doesn't work out, you never get the rest of the story. Television can do more."
In August, the series gave a hint it wouldn't shy away from one of the controversial big bad in the books: the Magisterium. Riffing off the religious institution's totalitarian control, the series tweeted this about social media: "You are forbidden from creating, reading or reproducing any clandestine materials. The Magisterium has proclaimed that social media is a hotbed for heresy. Accounts associated with abominable heretical 'spoiler' discussions will face severe consequences."
Note: This story was first published Oct. 30, 2018 and is updated as news rolls in.