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A BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' looks set to go ahead

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Mike Rampton
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A TV adaptation of 'His Dark Materials' is on the way 1

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books - Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - look like they’re going to be made into a big-budget TV adaptation.

There was going to be a movie trilogy at one point, but the first film, The Golden Compass (the title Northern Lights was published under in the US), underperformed at the box office, partly due to protests and boycotts by religious organisations (and partly, frustratingly, to changes made from the books to lessen their anti-religious content in order to try and avoid exactly those protests), despite an all-star cast including Nicole Kidman, Eva Green, Daniel Craig and the exquisitely moustachioed Sam Elliott.

TV production company Bad Wolf, founded by some of the people responsible for Doctor Who’s 21st Century resurgence, are making a TV version. They made The Night Of for HBO, and have just wrapped on the upcoming A Discovery of Witches for Sky, so are now on His Dark Materials. No casting details or anything else have been announced, other than that it’ll be filming in Wales in 2018. At one point Jack Thorne, who co-wrote all the TV installments of This is England, was said to be writing it, but there’s no mention of him on the Bad Wolf site. Philip Pullman said of this adaptation: 

“It’s been a constant source of pleasure to me to see this story adapted to different forms and presented in different media. It’s been a radio play, a stage play, a film, an audiobook, a graphic novel - and now comes this version for television. 

“In recent years we’ve seen how long stories on television, whether adaptations (Game of Thrones) or original (The Sopranos, The Wire), can reach depths of characterisation and heights of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for consequences to unravel. And the sheer talent now working in the world of long-form television is formidable. 

“For all those reasons I’m delighted at the prospect of a television version of His Dark Materials. I’m especially pleased at the involvement of Jane Tranter, whose experience, imagination, and drive are second to none.”

Interesting that he mentioned Game of Thrones - Lyra, heroine of the trilogy, was played by Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass movie, who later played Myrcella in Thrones. Is that interesting? Maybe. 

The book trilogy, set across parallel worlds and involving magic, Zeppelins, armoured polar bears and a pretty balls-out anti-faith message, sold in the millions and won most of the awards going. One of the most memorable ideas in it is that of daemons, animal-like manifestations that every human has and exists co-dependently with, like a combination of pet, BFF and externalised ID. The series drew controversy for its subject matter, which Pullman describes as ‘killing God’. Only in America, though - over here, the Archbishop of Canterbury actually praised the books for warning of the dangers of dogmatism. 

It’s unclear whether the whole saga is being done at once, or just the first book again (although titling it His Dark Materials rather than Northern Lights would suggest they’re treating it as one big story), but if it goes well, there’s more to cover. There are companion books, Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North, as well as an as-yet unreleased followup to those two. Last year brought La Belle Sauvage, the first of a new trilogy called The Book of Dust, which spans before, during and after the original books. 

No broadcast date is currently set.

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