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Magic of His Dark Materials is finally done well on screen

This article is over 2 years, 9 months old
It’s the adaptation that lovers of Philip Pullman’s trilogy have been waiting for—and you don’t need to read the books to enjoy it, writes Gabby Thorpe
Issue 2678
Cold hearted Asriel
Cold hearted Asriel

The His Dark Materials trilogy may finally be getting the screen adaptation it deserves.

There are probably very few literature lovers in Britain who have not read, or at least know about, Philip Pullman’s fantasy novels.

They take place in an alternative Oxford.

Here people’s souls take the physical form of daemons—which appear as animals—and the whole world is powered by a mysterious substance called Dust.

The story follows Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon as they go on an adventure to save their friend Rodger from “The Gobblers” who kidnapped him.

The books are an allegory for religious oppression, and though aimed at young adults have found enormous appeal with readers of all ages.


So when a film adaptation of the first novel came out in 2007, it was sad to see so much of what made them special was left out.

This new BBC television series instantly feels more faithful to Pullman’s creation.

The adaptation will cover the trilogy over three series, meaning that unlike the film it will have room to explore everything that happens in the books.

From the start, the series explores how the theocratic society that Lyra is living in is at odds with scientific discovery.

Her uncle Asriel is on the run from the Magisterium—a heavily oppressive religious government.

His discovery of Dust is considered dangerous by the Magisterium. And Lyra wants nothing more than for Asriel to take her with him.

The writing and acting are both promisingly strong. James McAvoy plays a convincingly cold hearted Lord Asriel—but it’s Dafne Keen’s Lyra that steals the show.

The series makes much more of an effort than the film to capture her longing for freedom.

What begins to unfold is a sense of adventure that isn’t necessarily cheery.

The feeling that something sinister is unfolding hangs in the air. Even those who have read the books will find themselves gripped.

The only downfall is the quality of the CGI special effects.

While the whole show captures so brilliantly the world of Lyra’s Oxford, the daemons sometimes look a little unnatural.

But with such a captivating story that’s easy enough to overlook.

Whether you’ve read the books or are experiencing this story for the first time, you’re in for a treat.

Starts on Sunday 3 November, 8pm, BBC1


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