It was always going to be a challenge for the BBC to bring the intricate plotline and magical character of the first instalment in Phillip Pullman’s renowned series, Northern Lights, into a TV series, especially considering the poor result of the 2007 film’s attempt to adapt the book. Series 1 of His Dark Materials captures the essence of the book nicely, bringing the characters to life and creates excitement for Series 2.
The acting was one of the highlights of the show. Daphne Keene provides a convincing portrayal of Lyra Belacqua, showcasing the determination, quick-thinking and warmth that are essential to the character. When casting was announced, some were initially sceptical of James McAvoy playing Lord Asriel; it wasn’t down to his ability, more the common perception of Asriel’s aesthetic. But McAvoy’s ability to portray the cunning and cold-hearted resolve of the character overcame any doubters, and his scenes ended up being some of the best of the series. The rest of the cast was also good, namely the voice actors for the bears (primarily Joe Tandberg as Iorek), who helped make the show thrive
The decision to include the first part of the Will Parry (Amir Wilson) storyline from the start of The Subtle Knife was a good one, as it meant that it won’t have to be crammed into the start of Series 2. Will’s initial story was expanded somewhat, with the role of Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) also expanded beyond what it was in the book, which makes for a good introduction to the character. Overall, it added short breaks from the main storyline, which was interesting, and Amir Wilson provided a solid performance.
The main criticism of the inclusion of Will’s storyline is that the screen time used for it resulted in other scenes needing to be streamlined, with the primary example being a brawl between two characters which seemed short and unsatisfying compared to its description in the book. Despite this, however, the biggest scenes were still well crafted and sparked the intended emotions, especially the excitement and apprehension instilled by the climax of the series.
Overall, the series captures the complexities and intricate storytelling of the book well, something not quite possible with a film. The characters are represented effectively and the visuals are really satisfying. Jack Thorne’s writing is excellent, which is a significant factor in the series’ success as a whole. For fans of the books and His Dark Materials newbies alike, it’s a series that is sure to please.
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