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The Return of His Dark Materials Proves a Hit

LOUISE WILSON is impressed by the BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman's classic trilogy.

The phenomenon of Game of Thrones set a high standard for fantasy TV adaptations, and it’s a standard that many shows just haven’t been able to come close to. So why has His Dark Materials worked?

Stepping into the light… at last!

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t much of a fan of the first series of His Dark Materials. I think it

suffered from trying to balance faithfully adapting the books whilst also avoiding the shadow of 2007’s infamously disliked adaption The Golden Compass. I stuck with the show purely because I love the books, and I love Lyra. When writer Jack Thorne decided to introduce the trilogy’s second protagonist, Will (Amir Wilson), in the second episode of series one, I was very put off. Will’s introduction in the second book is so well done because it’s completely unexpected; we go from Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) world of Daemons and Dust to a world we are completely familiar with, and so it fell wrong to introduce Will so early.

As it turns out, I was completely mistaken. Having Will, a fully developed character, before he and Lyra meet for the first time has meant the writers could hit the ground running in series two. A huge part of the trilogy is Will and Lyra’s relationship, and watching them slowly come to trust each other over the series is a complete joy, although this only makes things more painful for those who know what’s coming. The success of His Dark Materials lies not in its fantasy elements, but with its characters. Lyra’s character growth from book to book is so endearing to read and I believe Dafne Keen has translated that to screen really well (And who can resist red panda-Pan?).

Putting Names to Faces

The supporting cast has also been really strong. James McAvoy was arguably the biggest name attached to the project when it was first announced, and whilst I was itching for him to be on screen during series one, I don’t think the second series has been affected by his absence (although I was very happy with his surprise cameo). Ruth Wilson

has given a lot of depth to Mrs Coulter and plays her in such a nuanced way that she is truly fantastic to watch, particularly as the series delved in the sexism she faces as a female scholar. Lin Manuel Miranda seems to be like marmite for a lot of people- some felt he was miscast however personally; I really like him as Lee Scoresby. Simone Kirby has given Mary Malone an element of likeability that she didn’t have in the books. Since I’ve reread them, it’s been nice to be able to put her face to the character. The biggest casting announcement for the series was the addition of Andrew Scott, who was teased in series one. Scott is great in everything, and this was no exception. My only qualm was that it felt a bit redundant to cast Fleabag creator and Scott’s co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge as his daemon and then give her virtually nothing to say.

Exceptional performances

The absolute standouts of this series have been Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson. Keen consistently holds her own when in scenes with much more experienced actors, especially when Lyra confronts her mother. The scene where Will finally meets his father only to lose him immediately after is so, incredibly well-acted by Wilson and made me weep uncontrollably. The chemistry between the pair really drives the show. As a big fan of the books, I have full confidence that they will finish the story beautifully come series three.

My final thoughts

All-in-all, I feel this show has really found its feet in series two. The visual effects are outstanding for a show that airs on BBC One on a Sunday night – the opening credits sequence alone is a triumph, especially when paired with Lorne Balfe’s melodies. The BBC announced that they had officially commissioned a third and final series over Christmas, so we can only hope that the high quality will continue, and this beloved book series will finally get the full on-screen adaption it deserves.

Written by Louise Wilson

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Lovely review Louise. It's been 20 or more years since I read these books (on the advice of an English Lit colleague who reassured me it was not just for a younger audience) and I was astonished at how complex and dark it becomes. It also seems unfilmable but somehow HBO / BBC have pulled it off. The attention to detail and the casting have been spot-on, especially Daphne Keen, Amir Wilson and Ruth Wilson (you Wilsons are ruling the roost!). God (or some other deity) knows how they're going to deal with Season 3...... but I'll be dusting down my amber spyglass eagerly to watch it!

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