The first season of His Dark Materials follows Lyra (Dafne Keen, the little girl silent mutant from Logan), a seemingly ordinary but brave young woman from another world. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children, and becomes a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. As she journeys through the worlds, including our own, Lyra meets a determined and courageous boy called Will. Together they encounter extraordinary beings and dangerous secrets, with the fate of both the living—and the dead— in their hands.
Pullman’s trilogy has been adapted into a radio series and a two-part play at the National Theatre, but Jane Tranter, the series EP, was savoring to adapt the series “to spread these books out” given their vast canvas. New Line had the rights to Pullman series, having made the movie The Golden Compass which was very expensive back in 2007 at $180M (before P&A). The film tanked stateside with $70M and overperformed at the overseas B.O. with more than $300M. The intention was to start a cinema franchise, but all plans were scrapped after Golden Compass didn’t work on a Lord of the Rings level. Tranter pursued New Line as she was passionate about turning the Pullman trilogy into a series.
Adapting the series is Jack Thorne, who wrote the script for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. His process for delivering an authentic take on the Pullman books was a similar process to how he approached Harry Potter: Deeply researching the author and getting into their psyche. For Tranter, it was “a long process” to sell the series to HBO. The BBC came on from the start as the book are huge in the UK. “Each week we’d put another piece into place, whether it was a production design, or another piece of casting, until they finally said ‘Ok, we’re there.’ It’s not an easily comprehensible piece of TV.”
“When we were pitching this around town, we kept saying it’s anti-superhero story,” said Thorne, “there are people seeking greatness in this story.”
“It’s the young woman who wants to be good. I really believe we should be following our goodness, and we’re getting distracted by greatness and it has lessons for all of us,” added Thorne who, natch, adores Keen’s character of Lyra.
The books are about resistance to authority, and Tranter made a point that the series isn’t attacking any specific religion, i.e. Christianity.
Said Tranter, “There’s many conversations about the religious…It’s better to have a conversation that’s on the table, rather than a lot of assumptions. Philip Pullman isn’t attacking belief or faith or the church per se, he’s attacking a particular form of control where there’s a deliberate attempt to withhold information and keep people in the dark and not allow ideas to be free. It’s not personified by an autocratic government or church, it’s personified by the Magistarium (in the books and series), it’s not personified by any church in our world.
Many of the characters in the show have “demons” or alter egos. James McAvoy, who is doing double duty at this year’s Comic-Con after his appearance last night at the It: Chapter Two panel, plays character Lord Asriel who has a demon in the form of a snow leopard. Ruth Wilson’s villainess Mrs. Coulter has a monkey. In the trailer she pursues Keen’s Lyra. Many of the actors went so method in their preparation that they worked with puppeteers in figuring out the blocking of their characters and their demons. Lin -Manuel Miranda plays Lee Scoresby, a Texan who flies air balloons. He revealed that when we first see his character, he’s singing with his demon. The Hamilton multi-Tony winner went into talks on the series with Tranter and Thorne while he was shooting Mary Poppins Returns in London. He said yes upon sitting down with them.
“When my wife and I started dating we read these books,” said Miranda, “It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story, there’s a romance in it, and it has a really special place in my heart.”
Executive Producing the series are Dan McCulloch, Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner for Bad Wolf, Philip Pullman, Jack Thorne, Tom Hooper, Deborah Forte, Toby Emmerich and Carolyn Blackwood for New Line Cinema, and Ben Irving and Piers Wenger – BBC One
Hooper is lead director of the big-budget adaptation and is helming the first two episodes. The remaining directors of Season two are Dawn Shadforth (Episode 3), Otto Bathhurst (Episodes 4 & 5), Euros Lyn (Episode 6) and Jamie Childs (Episodes 7 & 8).