HBO and the BBC team up to bring Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy drama to life, in the form of His Dark Materials. Rising from the ashes of the disappointing 2007 movir The Golden Compass (dir. Chris Weitz), this series directed by Tom Hooper is the realisation of everything fans could hope for. Set in a parallel universe where people are bonded with their constant companions, called ‘daemons’, a prophecy is foretold about a girl who will wage spiritual warfare against the Magisterium, due to a mysterious substance called ‘Dust’.
Fresh from her success in Logan, Dafne Keen is perfect as the central character, Lyra Belacqua. From scaling the roofs of Jordan College herself, to braving the snow of the North, she shows the grit and tenacity expected of this unconventional character. She is not glib or shallow in the role, but leaves scope for herself to grow in the subsequent series that the audience has surely been promised.
“Dafne Keen […] shows the grit and tenacity expected of this unconventional character”
Dafne Keen is joined by an all-star cast, including James McAvoy as Lord Asriel. As this character he is brooding, tortured and driven. He storms along the halls of Jordan College, making academics shudder in his wake. The intensity with which McAvoy depicts this character prompts the audience to realise that there is much more at stake here than simple politics.
“The intensity with which McAvoy depicts this character prompts the audience to realise that there is much more at stake here than simple politics”
Matching this energy is Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter, portraying the ruthless character with every ounce of unsettling nerve that she is owed. As the figurehead for the ominous Magisterium, she creates a heavy sense of unease every time she enters our screens. The way in which she can seamlessly change from a motherly figure of interest to a calculating, heartless individual makes the audience believe that danger always lurks not so far beneath her pleasant veneer.
Credit should also go to Lin Manuel Miranda in his debut entrance on British television. As the well-travelled Lee Scoresby he brings a dry humour to the role through banter with Cristela Alonzo, who voices his daemon Hester. One almost thinks he would be a little lost without this dry humour, as he does not look as comfortable in the serious parts of each episode, rushing through them slightly to get to another witty one liner. His Texan accent is also suspect at best. However, for his first foray without the crutch of a song or two, he does well.
“The cast of His Dark Materials is well up to the job of handling such a mammoth task as Jack Thorne’s writing presents”
The cast is packed full of famous faces; with Anne-Marie Duff as the determinedly committed Ma Costa; Clarke Peters as the resolute Master of Jordan College; and James Cosmo as the sophic Farder Coram, the cast of His Dark Materials is well up to the job of handling such a mammoth task as Jack Thorne’s writing presents.
“This series traverses such a large variety of landscapes”
Justin Brown’s cinematography also deserves an honourable mention. As this series traverses such a large variety of landscapes it presents a challenge to show each one in enough detail to feel real. Brown does this with gusto and, twinned with small aspects from the costuming department, this whole world feels authentic.
Overall, this work is thrilling and complex, speaking of more to come in this complicated story, adding depth and detail to the lore of Pullman’s work.
Featured Image courtesy of Bad Wolf, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Home Box Office (HBO), New Line Cinema and Scholastic via IMDb. Image use license found here.
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