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His Dark Materials #TelevisionReview

Secrets and dangers lie ahead for young Lyra Belacqua in an epic tale of stolen children and the mysterious substance of Dust. Adaptation of Philip Pullman’s best-selling trilogy.

Starring: Kit Connor, Archie Barnes, Dafne Keen

Release Year: 2019 | Runtime: 1h | Genre: Fantasy | Source: BBC One | Country: UK/US | Rating: 4 out of 5

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His Dark Materials (episode 1) Review

Philip Pullman’s much loved ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy has had a chequered history when it comes to screen adaptations. A Hollywood movie of the first book ‘The Northern Lights’ (or ‘The Golden Compass’ if you’re in the USA) was released in 2007. Despite a cast that included Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and a budget of $180 million, it failed to set the US box office alight and was criticised by many for refusing to tackle organised religion in the same way the books had. The planned sequels were shelved.

Over a decade later, the impressive alliance of HBO and the BBC has come to the rescue, with a new TV adaptation that seems more likely to keep fans of the books happy. My son and I sat down to watch the first episode live on BBC One (something we very rarely do) and came away entertained and with our appetites whetted for next week’s instalment. Set in a steampunk world of academics and airships, it follows a young girl, Lyra, whose uncle has recently returned from an expedition to explore the frozen North. There are hints of magic and of conspiracies to keep the truth about the nature of the world from its ordinary inhabitants.

This opener provided a solid introduction to the universe and the characters. As befits an epic tale of adventure, by the end of the episode Lyra’s everyday world had been turned upside down and she was about to embark on a mysterious journey. The show isn’t perfect, but it does so much right that it’s easy to forgive it any flaws. It’s richly imaginative, unpatronizing in its approach to world-building, and full of wonder and excitement. I found it a little bewildering at times, but it’s so full of enough energy that I forgot to be confused. The cast do a great job of bringing the word to life and whilst the visuals have a little too much of the sheen of CGI to them at times, they are creative and vibrant. Most importantly, it captures the joy and wonder of being a child on a great adventure. If future episodes manage to maintain that magic, the series will have two dedicated fans in my house.

Published inStarred ReviewsTelevision reviews


  1. That sounds good. Which BBC channel is it on and when; I missed any ‘ads’ for it.

    • Oh, you said BBC1 – which day?

      • Olly_C

        Hi Jemima – it is on at 8pm every Sunday, first episode yesterday. It’s also on iPlayer.

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