His Dark Materials

The casting of this television adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is almost immaculate, but it can often feel a little lifeless

Tv Review by Tom Charles | 13 Dec 2019
  • His Dark Materials
Title: His Dark Materials
Series Creator: Jack Thorne
Starring: James McAvoy, Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, Anne-Marie Duff, Clarke Peters, James Cosmo
Platform: BBC One/iPlayer

With Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, generally, you either love them, or you haven’t come to them yet. We’ve already had Chris Weitz’s stillborn first attempt, 2007’s The Golden Compass, so you’d think that HBO and the BBC (who co-produced) would have skipped over that low bar. So it’s odd to see HDM hit so many of the same stumbling blocks. Both adaptations feature worlds that are immaculately realised (in a ‘spared no expense’ fashion), with stellar casts, and their writers clearly love the original novels, and yet both are curiously bloodless.

For those not versed in the story, HDM follows Lyra (Dafne Keen channelling much of the bristling energy she showed off in Logan), a remarkable young woman from a world similar to our own, if you imagine we never quite escaped the 1950s and we all walk around with an animal companion best thought of as a living embodiment of our souls. After a friend of Lyra’s is abducted, she sets out to find him and stumbles upon a dark and dangerous plot.

Keen and much of the rest of the cast are excellent (although Lin-Manuel Miranda is sorely miscast), but feel shackled by its pre-watershed timeslot. It’s right that the series be aimed at the whole family, but there is a regal poise to the whole endeavour which results in an oddly cold and distant tone. There are brief moments when it comes fully to life, usually when Lyra and the enigmatic Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) face-off, but these are few and far between. There’s still time for the series to course correct – it has the majority of two books still to adapt – but Jack Thorne (the sole scriptwriter) needs to get the blood pumping through this pretty, but all too often lifeless, world.

Broadcast on BBC1 and available on iPlayer