HBO and BBC One have teamed up to bring to life Philip Pullman’s Carnegie and Whitbread-winning book trilogy, listed among Time magazine’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time, and the BBC’s 2019 list of the 100 most influential novels. Season 1 was based on Northern Lights; Season 2 on The Subtle Knife.
The story follows Lyra, a young orphan, as she crosses between worlds on a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust, with the help of her daemon Pan and her alethiometer.
Critics Choice-nominated child star Dafne Keen (Logan) stars as Lyra, with Oscar nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) playing Lee Scoresby; Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson (The Affair, Luther) as Mrs Coulter; and Golden Globe nominees James McAvoy (X-Men) and Andrew Scott (Fleabag, Sherlock) as Lord Asriel and Colonel John Parry respectively, with Oscar nominee Terence Stamp (The Limey, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) joining the adventure this season as Giacomo Paradisi.
Wilson won Best Actress at the recent BAFTA Cymru awards, where His Dark Materials also took home Best Photography and Lighting as well as Best Production Design. His Dark Materials also won a 2020 Annie Award for the character animation on Iorek the Bear, as well as two 2020 BAFTA TV Craft awards for Special, Visual and Graphic Effects and Titles & Graphic Identity.
This season, listen out for the likes of Golden Globe winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Run), Critics Choice nominee Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders, Harry Potter) and BAFTA nominees David Suchet (Poirot) and Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy) voicing daemons – “the inside of us brought to life,” as Jack Thorne (Enola Holmes), His Dark Materials’ five-time BAFTA-winning screenwriter, puts it.
“In this reality of His Dark Materials, the human soul is personified in the character of an animal, who is with every person,” explains McAvoy.
The beautifully animated daemons are undeniably a huge part of the show’s popularity. As Emmy-winning producer Jane Trantner (Succession) puts it, “Once you get the idea of an daemon, everyone wants to think about what would my daemon be, what would your daemon be, and what would it feel like to have that constant companion and soul mate with you, by your side the whole time?”
HBO has just launched a His Dark Materials: My Daemon AR app, to help fans answer those exact questions.
If daemons are souls personified, Dust is the manifestation of original sin – at least according to the Magisterium, the ruling religious institution in His Dark Materials. “Everyone has a theory on what Dust is,” says Thorne. “The Magisterium believes that Dust is sin. Children have less Dust than adults, so the idea that Dust is sin is provoked from that. And the Magisterium is frightened of sin so they think a world where sin can be eradicated would be a better world.”
In contrast, says Trantner, “People like Asriel celebrate original sin because it is what allows you to fall in love, it’s what gives you curiosity, it’s what fuels your imagination and creativity – Dust is really what makes us the human beings that we are.”
In their five-star review of the fantasy show, The Independent says, “This is a beautiful, brooding vision of Pullman’s universe, which retains the mix of childish wonder and darkness that make his books so beguiling to young adults.” They go on to praise the series for being “unafraid to air the book’s anti-theocratic messages.”
“The scope of Philip Pullman’s imagination is incredible,” says McAvoy. “The fact that he’s dealing with free will and human rights, and he’s dealing with the right to learn, the right to liberty, and the things that they have to do in order to free us from the grip of these institutions are controversial and taboo and daring… and anything but a kid’s story.”
That said, Common Sense Media recommends the series for ages 13+, and its appeal to parents and teens watching together was a big factor in the strong viewership figures HBO posted for Season 1.
“It’s a wonderful story,” says Time magazine, “rendered with the liveliness – and the budget – Pullman’s books deserve,” while Slate calls it “proof that TV is now the best medium for bringing epic literary fantasy to the screen.”