Television Review: His Dark Materials, Series 1

His Dark Materials, BBC adaptation

Show: His Dark Materials, Series 1

Company:  Bad Wolf, BBC, HBO

Date: 2019

Plot: Based on author Philip Pullman’s beloved trilogy, His Dark Materials follows Lyra, a brave young woman from another world. Lyra’s quest to find her kidnapped friend leads her to uncover a sinister plot of a secret organization, encounter extraordinary beings and protect dangerous secrets.

It’s been years since I read the Philip Pullman books and even longer since I cringed my way through the attempt at a film. I was intrigued at how the series would be portrayed and had high expectations due to the hype I was hearing about it.

With it being so long since I read the books, I cannot comment on accuracy. From what I could remember, however, His Dark Materials felt like it stayed true to the source material. It was a good watch: tense, realistic characters and some amazing effects for something on the small screen.

The characters felt they were how I remembered them. Lyra was inquisitive but vulnerable; Lee still remains my absolute favourite with his carefree attitude and heart of gold; Azriel is mysterious and elusive and Mrs Coulter was terrifying with her changing emotions and softly spoken threats.

Dafne Keen is an impressive young actress and I liked her portrayal of Lyra. Her emotions and reactions were spot-on for a girl facing the life-changing events that Lyra does: from terror to cheekiness, from love to heartbreak. When you then consider most of the characters she is interacting with aren’t there, it adds depth to her performance.

Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter also was a strong choice. Her character goes from one extreme to another in a blink of an eye and she got the balance right: her emotional vulnerabilities are there for everyone to see but no one is brave enough to mention them due to her tendency to snap.

I did feel the relationship with the daemons was underplayed: I never felt the connection between Lyra and Pan despite it being an essential part of her character. The daemons were often unseen, unheard and overlooked as the key element that differs the worlds.

Although I enjoyed the show from the beginning to end, I thought the tension peaked too early and moments that were due to be heartbreaking didn’t deliver the way I anticipated. The show was one of the strongest aired in five years with over 7 million viewers at the start, but then dropped dramatically by the finale. Although it was staying true to the books, the final few episodes lacked tension and the fast-pace that had been present in some of the earlier episodes.

The pacing slowed down when the locations switched between worlds more frequently. While it is putting everyone in place for a second series, when there is Lyra fighting against powers-at-be in one world interspersed with Will wandering around Oxford, lost and on his own, it dramatically undermines the fight happening. It also felt like there were character-arcs that trailed off without any conclusion or sense of finality.

I still enjoyed the show – given that I watched the majority on catch-up, it had to really hold my attention given that each episode was an hour long – and am looking forward to seeing where they continue the story-arc in the second season and whether it stays as true.

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29 thoughts on “Television Review: His Dark Materials, Series 1

  1. I loved HDM! Ruth Wilson was the perfect choice in my opinion for Mrs Coulter! Stripped Media have a podcast on Spotify (His Darker Materials) and in the last one, they spoke to Russell Dodgeson who was head of CGI, and he made an excellent point about the difference between 10 seconds in a book, versus 10 seconds in a scene. I felt like that explained a lot especially with the daemons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah yes I can imagine that being the case. Completely understandable just they were so central to the world in the books that I just wanted more, aha! She was – loved her performance!

      Like

  2. Yes, I agree. Lyra’s story did pretty much stay true to the books ( I recently re-read them to compare) with just a few small differences. But I wasn’t a massive fan of how they played Will’s story. I felt it was really drawn out and we didn’t need that much detail about it, especially as the second book explains all of that in about 5 pages! I would of rather them kept to Lyra’s story more and kept the fast paced conclusion.

    Kayleigh x
    https://hazelnutmusings.co.uk/2020/01/14/2020-book-collection/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought exactly the same with Will’s – it just felt, well, kinda boring, yet I loved his story when I read the books (from what I can remember). Guess they were just trying to set it all up but i totally agree with you there!

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  3. I keep seeing previews for this show. It’s not really up my alley, but I was happy to see Dafne Keen getting more work. She was so good in Logan.

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  4. I’m so excited to start watching this series, I’ve heard so many good things about it and I really loved the book season back in the day. I hope it’s much better than the film x

    Liked by 1 person

    • I imagine it’s to do with budget but it just felt like it lacked some of the in-depth characterisation. Still, I did enjoy the series – and like you said doesn’t compare to the film!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had no idea what this show was about and wasn’t sure if I’d fancy watching it. Seems like with a lot of these adaptations- the book is always better but I might see if I can manage an episode. Thank you for sharing xxx

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  6. I had a lot of the same feelings. I think one of the most interesting portrayals of the daemons was Mrs. Coulter with her golden monkey. The way she seemed to hate it was an excellent way of showing her psyche to the audience without ever directly addressing it. It would have been cool to see that technique utilized in other ways. I’m really excited to see how they adapt the other books, especially book three.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve never read the Phillip Pullman books as a child but I’ve watched the movie and I remember being underwhelmed. But I’ll definitely check out the series! I feel like TV series often have a much better chance of doing a book justice!

    Liked by 1 person

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