What We Know About 'His Dark Materials' So Far

(Photo: Courtesy of HBO)

For those who might be unfamiliar with His Dark Materials, the fantasy trilogy, written by Philip Pullman, arrived in the mid-to-late 1990s with The Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. In that same period, both George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling released their seminal works A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter, respectively as well. While these two authors have gone on to become popular beyond anyone's wildest imaginations thanks to successful mainstream adaptations of their works, Pullman's story - featuring an alternative Earth setting, souls that exist outside of bodies as living creatures, and dark religious overtones - has had a harder time finding its way to the screen.

The first book was adapted as a feature film under the novel's Americanized title The Golden Compass, and it was a muddled flop, with the producers playing down the religious angles of the story and rendering it into an incoherent mess about a girl riding a bear. (That girl, by the way, was Dakota Blue Richards, who went on to play PC Trewlove on Endeavour.) Since then, the rights to Pullman's works sat in limbo until 2015, when the BBC announced it would attempt a Game of Thrones-level adaptation with New Line helping foot the cost.

(Photo: Courtesy of HBO)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when it came to finding partners to produce and release the series in the states, HBO leaped to partner with the BBC on the project, but work on the series took longer than expected. The original target date for the first season was 2017, but script revisions, and what seem to be general nerves not to recreate the failures of the film, kept the series in production hell for a couple of years. It wasn't until June of 2018 that a cast finally was put together and filming got underway. 

The good news is the cast alone seems to be worth the wait. The series is being headlined by James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter. However, as readers of the novels know, the real hero and heroine of the story are two children on the cusp of puberty, Lyra and Will, the latter of whom accidentally winds up on the alternate version of Earth from our more familiar one.

Up and coming actress Dafne Keen was announced as Lyra early on, but the BBC only recently announced that Amir Wilson is the one playing Will. (He doesn't turn up until the second novel, which most assume means the already greenlit second season.) Co-stars include Lin-Manuel Miranda as the very American adventurer Lee Scoresby and Clarke Peters as the very British Master of Jordan College. 

The first trailer looks very promising, but there's still the little matter of the religious aspects of the story. The trilogy was inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost (which is where the His Dark Materials title derives). But unlike, say, C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, which is very pro-Christian, Pullman's story is rather anti-Christian church and anti-evangelical. (The Catholic Church condemned it as "atheism for children.") Pullman got lucky that the controversy over Harry Potter and witchcraft mostly overshadowed the far more controversial stances in his books, but with the next Fantastic Beasts installment being pushed back due to poor critical reviews and Game of Thrones now concluded, that free ride may be over, especially if the series takes off in the States.

His Dark Materials does not have a confirmed release date on either the BBC or on HBO. The former isn't that surprising, given that the BBC usually waits until about a month out, or sometimes less, before confirming when a show will start airing. HBO also hasn't set a date, other than "Fall of 2019," but there is a rumor that, like Gentleman Jack and Chernobyl, His Dark Materials will air on Monday evenings instead of the traditional Sunday at 9 p.m. ET slot that Game of Thrones occupied for so long.

Hopefully, the premiere date for His Dark Materials Season 1 will be announced soon.