TV Review: His Dark Materials Episode 1

After what has felt like an interminable wait, the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials arrives onscreen in scintillating form

“In every child’s nightmare, there is an element of truth”

After what has felt like an interminable wait, the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials arrives onscreen in scintillating form. Written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Hooper, this first episode set the tone marvellously, balancing all the detail needed for world-building for newcomers and yet still maintaining enough magic to hook in those more seasoned fans of the work.

I definitely count myself in that latter category. The books were the first I ever hungered for in waiting for the publication of the second and third in the trilogy. The National Theatre production ranks as one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a theatre and I trekked to Bath and Salford to see subsequent revivals. I even don’t think the film adaptation of The Golden Compass is the worst thing in the world, honest…

So with the BBC and HBO throwing some serious money behind this TV adaptation (with no other option in this post-Game of Thrones world), expectations were certainly high. And cautiously, I would say they are going to be met. Luxury casting means there’s talent from top to bottom, Lucian Msamati and Anne-Marie Duff in support, Ian Gelder popping in for a cameo, Helen McCrory lending her voice, quality oozes in every frame.

But more than that, it is clever and astute casting. Dafne Keen feels perfect as the highly inquisitive Lyra Belacqua, whose plight in which we are immediately invested. And Ruth Wilson is pitch-perfect as the enigmatic and impossible glamourous Mrs Coulter, with hints of malevolence just quivering under the surface. Their relationship is so crucial to the story and it looks set to be epically realised.

I won’t say too much more now, as I want to see how the adaptation unfolds. But I’m liking the realisation of the daemons, an element of restraint meaning they’re not swamping the screen in an attempt to show off the CGI skillz. And the production design by Joel Collins is simply gorgeous, just on the right side of steampunk for this alternative Earth, Caroline McCall’s costume deserve a hearty mention too. There’s my Sunday night entertainment sorted for a good while now!

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