Photo Credit: BBC/HBO
His Dark Materials — the BBC and HBO co-produced adaptation of Sir Philip Pullman's epic fantasy adventure novel trilogy of the same name — shot its first two seasons back-to-back, executive producers Jane Tranter and Jack Thorne announced Thursday at the ongoing summer 2019 press tour of the (US) Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, California. They chose to do so because it features children and the first two books — Northern Lights (1995), and The Subtle Knife (1997) — don't take place over the same time period as the multiple years it takes to make TV shows in the real world.
“We have children in the show who as we all know grow up very quickly,” Tranter said at TCA, per /Film. “They don't look the same 12 months later. And yet, Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen, from Logan), now Lyra Silvertongue, is the same age. So, we had to find a way of turning the piece around quite quickly in order to allow that story to be told. There is a great thing in His Dark Materials of a girl going through puberty and we wanted to be able to pace that story out age appropriately. And so, that's why we went — everyone, HBO and the BBC, went with us — for 16 episodes.”
Meanwhile, Thorne said that His Dark Materials the TV show will make some adjustments to the plot as it happens in the books: “There are a few treats I've stolen from future books that I've tried to infuse this season with. To give that away would be to give away some quite big secrets, so I can't quite do that here. The whole thing was looking at the whole story, three books, and going, ‘How did Philip think of them like this? And how can we celebrate them in the best possible way?' And sometimes, that celebration involved moving certain elements forward.”
At TCA, Tranter reiterated that His Dark Materials is about oppression not religion — she had first addressed the topic at Comic-Con — which led to the controversy surrounding the 2007 film, The Golden Compass, which adapted the first book. Funnily enough, the film was criticised by both sides, with secularists and fans feeling the elements that were critical of religion had been diluted.
“One of the things that can happen when you adapt a book for film is that you have to sort of cut down the middle of the story,” Tranter said. “We can sound every note that Philip Pullman in his book sounded, and in so doing, we make clear that the religious controversy that there was around the film was not relevant to the books themselves. In His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman talks about oppression. He talks about the control of information. He talks about the falsification of information. And he chooses the form of The Magisterium, which is a fantastical organization which includes church and state and is a byzantine organization, to do it. There is no direct contrast with any contemporary religious organization for His Dark Materials.”
“I think what Philip was doing was digging on themes of the truth needing to be allowed out to the general population,” Tranter added. “It is not an attack on religion. It is an attack on a particular form of organization. The books are actually some of the most spiritual that I have read. They are full of faith. They are full of belief. Ultimately, they are very beautiful in what they have got to say about people who follow a pattern of faith or belief. So I think that sometimes misinformation can come out, but if you read the books, and you have the privileges we do to adapt them for every note that Philip sounds, that really answers that question.”
In addition to Dafne Keen as Lyra Belacqua, the cast of His Dark Materials season 1 includes Ruth Wilson as Marisa Coulter, James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Clarke Peters as The Master, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby, Ruta Gedmintas as Serafina Pekkala, Ariyon Bakare as Lord Boreal, James Cosmo as Farder Coram, Lucian Msamati as John Faa, and Anne-Marie Duff as Ma Costa among others. There are eight episodes in season 1.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article claimed His Dark Materials would have just two seasons. /Film has since updated its report, and we've revised our article with the corrections.