His Dark Materials is the Philip Pullman trilogy of novels which I have never read, nor did I see The Golden Compass, the 2007 movie made with the intention to kickstart a whole trilogy, but like Daniel Craig’s other trilogy attempt to redo The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, neither got beyond the first outing.
So, I come to this eight-part series completely afresh.
The introductory onscreen text states:
The relationship between human and daemon is sacred.
The world has been controlled for centuries by the all-powerful Magisterium. Except in the wilderness of the North, where witches whisper of a prophecy. A prophecy of a child with a great destiny.
During the great flood, this child was brought to Oxford.”
So, London’s flooded, just like so-called scientists keep telling us will happen every 30 years… and then it never does. Ring a bell? Given that this was written in 1995, it can’t have been long after the last time we heard all that nonsense.
Early on, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy – X-Men: Dark Phoenix) hands over niece Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen – Logan) to The Master (Clarke Peters) at Jordan College, Oxford, and we then zoom ahead to 12 years later where they’re about to be reacquainted briefly, but like all adventures, the lead protagonist is about to make a journey, with some mad pontificating elsewhere that it will require her “to betray someone”, but who? I’ve no idea. Like I said, I’ve not read it before, and as with a lot of online discussions, there will be people wanting to watch this who also have zero knowledge of the content of the novel.
In this world, it’s a mixture of Victorian era photography techniques and personal airships – so, a combination of tech from decades ago mixed in with futuristic ambitions; and one where animals talk to you, such as the Pantalaimon (Kit Connor) who accompanies Lyra, making this feel little ‘Doctor Dolittle’.
There’s a dust which is attacted exclusively to adults, plus Asriel has found a city in the sky, made up of a myriad of worlds, of which the Magisterium controls only one, but what will he plan to do about it? Well, for obvious reasons, don’t ask me. It’s all very majestic, but stupidly confusing. They should at least try and make it a little bit accessible.
His Dark Materials has clearly had a lot of money spent on it, and these deep pockets are courtesy of a combination of the BBC, New Line Cinema, Bad Wolf and HBO, but all too often, this first episode – aside from a lot of running about, and climbing onto rooftops – is all set-up and very little else, so it would’ve helped if both of the first two episodes had been available for preview so I could try and get more of a handle on it.
I will try a second one when it’s broadcast, but it is like watching the opening CGI for a videogame where you have no idea what’s going on, but you just want the programme to get on with it.
According to IMDB, a second series is already planned, so I’m presuming this will run for one series per novel.
UPDATE: Well, I did try a second episode, but got bored silly, to the point where I just scraped past the halfway point. It’s way too slow and dull.
His Dark Materials begins on BBC1 on Sunday, November 3rd. It’s not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD. You can watch the series on the BBC iPlayer, after each episode has been transmitted.
Episode 1 Score: 4/10
Series Directors: Jamie Childs, Otto Bathurst, Tom Hooper, Euros Lyn, Dawn Shadforth, Anthony Byrne, William McGregor
Adaptation: Jack Thorne
Novel: Philip Pullman
Lyra Belacqua: Dafne Keen
Lord Asriel: James McAvoy
Pantalaimon: Kit Connor
Dr. Carne: Clarke Peters
Marisa Coulter: Ruth Wilson
Ma Costa: Anne-Marie Duff
Colonel John Parry: Andrew Scott
Lee Scoresby: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lord Boreal: Ariyon Bakare
Will Parry: Amir Wilson
Serafina Pekkala: Ruta Gedmintas
Billy Costa: Tyler Howitt
Cardinal Sturrock: Ian Peck
Serafina Clan Witch #1: Leanne Holder
Kaisa: David Suchet
Hester: Cristela Alonzo
Fra Pavel: Frank Bourke
Thomas: Robert Emms
Father Garret: David Langham
The Golden Monkey: Brian Fisher
Benjamin De Ruyter: Simon Manyonda
Stelmaria: Helen McCrory
Iorek Byrnison: Joe Tandberg
Dr. Lenselius: Omid Djalili
Bright Eyed Man: Nabil Elouahabi
Iofur Raknison: Joi Johannsson
Sister Betty: Kate Rutter
Farder Coram: James Cosmo
Raymond Van Geritt: Mat Fraser
John Faa: Lucian Msamati
Librarian Scholar Charles: Ian Gelder
Father MacPhail: Will Keen
Adele Starminster: Georgina Campbell
Jack Verhoeven: Geoff Bell
Benjamin de Ruyter: Simon Manyonda
The Oxford College Porter: Simon Strutt
Roger Parslow: Lewin Lloyd
Tony Costa: Daniel Frogson
Billy Costa: Tyler Howitt
Daemon Archer: Zak Mahiz
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.