If you were a kid who loved a reading challenge, a good metaphor, or a trip into a fantasy world, then you may have read the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. If you were disappointed with the ‘Golden Compass’ film adaptation, when you heard that there was a new re-make of the trilogy, you probably were a little hesitant. You may have even been excited when you read that James McAvoy would star in the new series. So, when the series aired on the BBC on November 3rd, you no doubt watched the series, ready to be transported back to your childhood.
The adaptation was a major risk on behalf of the BBC. Philip Pullman’s series is so beloved that super-fans will be quick to jump on any flaw that offends the text.
But with the arrival of Netflix came the realisation that people want nostalgia and easy watching. There have been some misfires when remaking a series, but when the series was never good to begin with, it has a better chance of succeeding the second time.
Fortunately, there is little chance of this adaptation being called terrible or a let-down. Even the biggest nit-pickers would struggle to find an issue with the inspired casting and lavish production values, especially with Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter and Dafne Keen as Lyra, who put on standout performances.
Set in an alternate reality full of airships, witches and giant polar bears, the eight-part drama is based on ‘The Northern Lights’, the first story in the trilogy.
In the Britain depicted in the series, every character is accompanied by a daemon, a physical manifestation of their soul that takes the form of an animal. As children, the daemons can shift at will, until they settle into a single form once they reach puberty.
We spend some time with James McAvoy as Lord Asriel (McAvoy), and you can tell he is thrilled to be playing the part. He delights in every scene, oozing confidence and dark power.
The first episode of the series drew an audience of 7.2 million viewers, according to overnight figures. The lead character, Lyra, is a young girl who embarks on a quest to discover why children her age are being mysteriously abducted.
The Guardian called Dafne Keen’s performance “a fierce, intelligent performance” as Lyra. She is confident and opens up as the character of Mrs Coulter is introduced.
One of the biggest faults of ‘The Golden Compass’ original film adaption was how the Magisterium was changed from a religious organisation, in the vein of the Catholic Church, into a cast of typical freedom-hating baddies.
In the new adaptation, this isn’t the case. Power and faith are intertwined at the heart of the world, and the show isn’t shy about exploring that.
The first episode has set the scene, keeping the series remarkably similar to the book. Although it may start off slow, with even avid fans like myself struggling through the first part of the series, it has a lot to unpack with a lot of exposition. Still, overall the debut shines like a promise of the adventures that will follow.