HBO and the BBC have teamed up to adapt Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for TV. We’ve been here before. In 2007, New Line Cinema adapted the first book in the series — The Northern Lights — as The Golden Compass, starring the likes of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Sam Elliott. The movie was pretty but gutted Pullman’s anti-establishment ethos and pretty much everyone hated it.
The show is better — everyone agrees on that much — but is that enough? Pullman’s trilogy takes place in a world very much like our own, only there are a lot more steampunk influences and everyone walks around with an animal familiar, called a dæmon, that’s essentially an extension of your soul. If you’re young, like lead character Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), your dæmon changes shape along with your mood. If you’re older, like Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) or Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), it’s set in stone. Much of the original series was concerned with negotiating the transition from childhood to adulthood, and with talented people like Jack Thorne behind the camera, we can assume the new show will at least make a good faith attempt to do right by it.
I think a faithful, passionate adaptation of Pullman’s books could be spectacular, a fantasy saga for the ages, but critics are concerned that the HBO show spends too much time explaining itself, taking away from what made the books so special. We’re gonna be watching the show episode by episode, finding out for ourselves. Come along for the ride!