James McAvoy and Clarke Peters have signed on for BBC One’s much anticipated adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. Fans have been eagerly awaiting news on the upcoming show ever since it was announced over two and a half years ago.
His Dark Materials is comprised of three novels, The Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. The story follows two children, Lyra and Will, as they navigate their way across parallel universes in the midst of a celestial war. Pullman’s world is rich and complex, populated by witches, daemons and armored bears. The series captured the imagination of readers of all ages, understanding that books ostensibly written for children can be just as sophisticated as those written for adults.
According to Deadline, McAvoy has been cast as Lord Asriel, who was portrayed by Daniel Craig in the 2007 film The Golden Compass. Clarke Peters, known for his work in The Wire, John Wick and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has been cast as the master who raises Lyra. Although Logan star Dafne Keen has yet to share the screen with McAvoy in Fox’s X-Men universe, the two are set to meet in His Dark Materials, in which Keen will play his onscreen daughter, Lyra. Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda was previously cast in the role of adventurer, Lee Scorsby.
This won’t be McAvoy’s first foray into adaptations of childhood classics. The actor starred as beloved faun Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe back in 2005. McAvoy has since become known for portraying Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, beginning with First Class. Other recent projects include parts in Split and Atomic Blonde. The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper is set to helm the project and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playwright, Jack Thorne, will adapt Pullman’s books for the small screen. Pullman will also be involved as an executive producer. The eight-part series, produced by Bad Wolf, is set to begin filming later this month.
Pullman’s trilogy began with The Northern Lights, better known in the U.S. as The Golden Compass, which was turned into a feature film in 2007. The movie was meant to be only the first installment, but its middling box office performance coupled with a final product that simply failed to do the source material justice effectively ended the trilogy before it began. Pullman’s anti-religious themes were softened, leaving the story muddled, and those who would’ve been offended by the author’s views weren’t any less so. What did happen, though, is that fans of His Dark Materials were left with little more than disappointment in a film that was too short and too diminished to really resonate with them. Director Chris Weitz has even referred to the movie’s failure as his “greatest professional regret.”
The Golden Compass had real talent both onscreen and behind the scenes, but it crumbled under the pressure of compromising Pullman’s central themes, as well as a runtime that was never long enough to convey the complexity of the source material. Although much gets lost in the journey from page to screen - and often with good reason - TV is undoubtedly the superior way to tell this story and the author himself agrees. With the potential of unfolding the story across multiple seasons, as well the incredible cast and crew signed on, it would appear that Pullman’s novels will finally get their due.