Beware, slight spoilers ahead!
The dreary rain and darkness of an English winter has one perk: the return of winter dramas, and the BBC is launching strong with His Dark Materials, one of the most hotly anticipated adaptations of the year. And much to the relief of fans disappointed by the 2007 attempt to adapt Philip Pullman’s tale, this adaptation seems to have captured both the wonder and darkness that made fans fall in love with Pullman’s world and is sure to capture new audience members entering this world for the first time.
Episode One introduces us to Lyra Belacqua’s world. A world filled with daemons, (the soul manifested into the form of an animal), Dust (yes, that does need a capital, as it slightly different and just a bit more important than the stuff found on an unclean shelf), and the Magisterium, (a highly religious government that seeks to quash anything that does not fit with their own doctrine, imagine a government feeling the need to do that).
The episode begins, not with a scene from Northern Lights (the first book in His Dark Materials trilogy) but with a scene from the prequel novel La Belle Sauvage, during Oxford’s great flood. We see a very English sounding James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, wading through flood waters, with baby Lyra in his arms, seeking to get her into ‘scholastic sanctuary’ as she is in danger. It is revealed the Lyra has remained there for the past twelve or so years, protected yet tantalising us with wonder as to what part this child can play.
To say anymore would ruin it, but here are a few tasters for the rest of the episode: a group of kidnappers, known as the “Gobblers”, a family reunion of sorts, an attempted murder, the giving of a great gift and the arrival of character, who on the surface looks like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth, but to readers of the book, felt a shiver run through them at their arrival.
This adaptation is not quite (so far) faithful to Pullman’s tale, but is just as visually sumptuous as Pullman’s descriptions are, which is rare to see in adaptation, showing that a clear love and respect for the book is present, and it pays off as it is stunning.
The episode felt like it was deliberately holding back launching straight into the tale, as it guided new viewers into the world of Pullman, a chance to get to know it better and for those who are familiar with it a chance to get refamilarised, before the drama cranks up next week.
Photo Credit: BBC