His Dark Materials is one of the BBC’s latest dramas, based on the book series of the same name by Philip Pullman. The 8 episode premiere series, based primarily around the first book ‘Northern Lights’ has been showing each Sunday over the last few weeks. Now, I am a fan of the books and when the TV series was announced, I was excited, though hesitant after the relative flop of the film adaptation of the first book. So, I came into watching the series not sure what to expect, but was thoroughly impressed and intrigued by the series, and feel that those who have read the books will enjoy this adaptation, at least in part.
I came into watching the series not sure what to expect, but was thoroughly impressed and intrigued by the series
Firstly, His Dark Materials is set in a parallel universe where amongst other things, each person has a daemon which is a physical manifestation of their ‘soul’/personality. In addition, there are even more fantasy elements like talking armoured bears and witches. The series follows the story of Lyra, an orphan from Oxford as her life changes dramatically when her friend gets kidnapped, setting in motion events that change more than just her world. However, no series is complete without a villain, who primarily in this case, are the Magisterium, the powerful governing body over Lyra’s world.
First off, the actors play their characters fantastically. Of note, Dafne Keen plays Lyra, and does so with the youthful spark and vigour, but with a backbone of maturity that is a nuanced and faithful representation of the character. Every principal actor, regardless of which role they’re playing, has played their part fluently. I will admit, as would always be the case with an adaptation, there are moments when the characterisation does miss what I would expect from the books, or a character’s story is changed in some way, but despite this and whilst the story may have been slow to get moving at times, the acting never seemed stilted, and characters haven’t been entirely off the mark, just marginally different than expected.
Every principal actor, regardless of which role they’re playing, has played their part fluently
The series is visually and audibly stunning. The choice of locations and set design really immerses the audience, Lorne Balfe’s instrumentals underlie key moments with the gravitas, tension, or even sorrow that they deserve. The CGI is on point, a great example of what modern technologies can achieve and creating characters like the daemons in a way that sits right in terms of suspension of disbelief at talking animals. However, this does lead into one of my few criticisms of the show, which I know can be well explained as a lack of time or funding, but there is a distinct lack of daemons in ensemble scenes. Every person is meant to have a daemon, yet often in group scenes, there is only a small number relative to the number of humans in the scene.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the series is the introduction of Will and his story within the first series, whilst he doesn’t appear until the second book. However, I am in favour of seeing him before the point in the books, as well as a focus on events without Lyra as it provides a chance to develop the characters in a way a TV show wouldn’t be able to solely following Lyra’s story, as happens in the book. Will’s story in the series so far provides a depth to the character that is hinted at in the first meeting with him in the book. In my opinion, the way that they introduced Will’s story is a better way of showing and developing his character than solely as the book did it.
Overall, His Dark Materials is an immersive and intriguing series with a good mix of action and emotion, that is a fair, even if not 100% accurate, representation of the books. I would thoroughly recommend it to book readers and newbies to the series alike. The final episode of the first series broadcasts on BBC 1 on Sunday 22nd December, when it will become available with the rest of the series on BBC iPlayer, or HBO elsewhere in the world.