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Everything We Know About HBO's 'His Dark Materials'

his dark materials
Iorek Byrnison, an armoured bear voiced by Ian McKellen, in 'His Dark Materials' | HBO
Iorek Byrnison, an armoured bear voiced by Ian McKellen, in 'His Dark Materials' | HBO

Philip Pullman's seminal fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, established a world with nearly endless potential. The 2007 movie The Golden Compass gave us a largely lackluster adaptation of the first novel in the series, but Pullman's popular books are finally getting another chance to succeed on the screen, thanks to an upcoming big-budget, star-studded BBC One and HBO co-production.

Equal parts fantasy, science fiction and coming-of-age, His Dark Materials novels are intended to appeals to all ages, interweaving complex drama with childlike mysticism and tackling topics ranging from authoritarianism to organized religion. But it's possible the adaptation will skew a bit older to fill the massive fantasy-series hole left by Game of Thrones and fit better alongside HBO's other genre fare like Westworld (returning in 2020) and Watchmen (set to premiere October 20). Here's what we know so far about His Dark Materials Season 1.

When does His Dark Materials premiere?

Lyra Belacqua, Pantalaimon, and the infamous golden compass will command our viewing attention before the year is out. His Dark Materials will premiere on HBO on November 4, paired on Monday nights with the four-part Helen Mirren miniseries Catherine the Great

What is the series about?

His Dark Materials seems to be a relatively faithful adaptation of Pullman's work, and judging by the latest trailer, the season will focus primarily on the first book in the series, known as The Golden Compass in North America and more widely as "Northern Lights." Per executive producer Jane Tranter, the series will also draw "a tiny bit" from Pullman’s His Dark Materials follow-up trilogy, titled The Book of Dust.

His Dark Materials takes place in a Victorian-esque world where every human is accompanied by an eternal companion known as a dæmon (pronounced "demon") who eventually takes on a permanent animal form that reflects their human. Prior to puberty, however, dæmons can shift their form based on emotion of situation. Additionally, they're always a different gender than their human, and it's physically painful for a human and dæmon to be too far away from each other. There's other differences from our world as well, notably the existence of talking, armored polar bears (yep!) and a variety of supernatural phenomena. 

The series follows Lyra Belacqua (played by Logan's Dafne Keen in the HBO series), the adolescent niece of Lord Asriel, a scientist and adventurer in search of "dust," a mysterious particle that can provide glimpses into parallel universes. Lyra lives among the academics of Jordan College in Oxford, England, the entity that funds her uncle's risky research. Looming over everything is the threat of the Magisterium, a hegemonic religious body that's quick to crack down on anything it considers heresy. 

After Asriel leaves to explore in the North, one of Lyra's friends disappears, presumably kidnapped by people referred to as "gobblers." A socialite named Mrs Coulter takes Lyra in, but not before the Master of Jordan College passes on a truth-telling device called an alethiometer. Lyra begins to unravel a conspiracy involving the church, her missing friend, and her uncle's research, eventually setting out on a quest to find him. Along the way, she teams up with a motley crew of characters including Lee Scoresby, an aeronaut from Texas, and Iorek Byrnison, an estranged prince and armored bear. 

his dark materials
Ruth Wilson in 'His Dark Materials' | HBO

Who's in the cast?

We've already run through some of the actors, but the cast is pretty stacked: Dafne Keen, who earned her international breakthrough with her performance as child mutant Laura in Logan, is playing protagonist Lyra Belacqua. Joining her is James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Lyra's adventurous and contrary uncle. Ruth Wilson (Luther) is the cryptic Mrs Coulter, and Amir Wilson (who will also star in the upcoming Secret Garden remake) as fellow protagonist Will Parry, who will appear in Season 2. Lewin Lloyd (Fortitude) plays Roger Parslow, Lyra's kidnapped friend and part of the impetus for her journey.

Rounding out the live-action cast are Clarke Peters (The Wire) as the Master of Jordan College, Anne Marie-Duff (Shameless) as Ma Costa, James Cosmo (Game of Thrones) as Farder Coram, Lucian Msamati (Luther) as John Faa, Ruta Gedmintas (The Strain) as Serafina Pekkala, Ariyon Bakare (Good Omens) as Lord Boreal, Ian Gelder (Game of Thrones) as Charles, Will Keen (The Crown) as Father MacPhail, Georgina Campbell (Murdered by my Boyfriend) as Adele Starminster, Omid Djalili (The Mummy) as Dr. Martin Lanselius, and Andrew Scott (Fleabag) as Jopari, who will appear in Season 2.

The series also features a sizeable voice acting cast. Joe Tandberg (The Innocents) will voice Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear that joins Lyra on her quest. The majority of the voice acting cast will play dæmons: Kit Connor, who played a teenage Elton John in Rocketman, voices Lyra's still unsettled dæmon Pantalaimon. Helen McCrory (Harry Potter) voices Stelmaria, Lord Asriel's snow leopard dæmon. David Suchet (Poirot) is Kaisa, a gyrfalcon dæmon to witch Serafina Pekkala. Comedian Cristela Alonzo will voice Lee Scoresby's artic hare dæmon Hester. Brian Fisher (Detective Pikachu), will provide vocalizations for Mrs Coulter's golden monkey dæmon, who does not speak or have a name.

Who is else is involved with the adaptation?

After potential sequels to the initial film adaptation languished in development hell for several years, the rights to the trilogy eventually reverted back to Phillip Pullman. In 2015, BBC ordered a television adaptation to be produced by former BBC executive Jane Tranter's Bad Wolf and New Line Cinema. The series was originally intended to premiere in 2017, but was delayed in pre-production. In 2018, HBO came on to co-produce and internationally distribute the project. 

Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) is adapting the novels for television, with Phillip Pullman executive producing. Also executive producing Dan McCulloch, Jane Tranter, and Julie Gardner for Bad Wolf; Toby Emmerich and Carolyn Blackwood for New Line Cinema; Ben Irving and Piers Wenger for BBC One; and Jack Thorne, Tom Hooper, and Deborah Forte.

Tom Hooper, who one the Academy Award for Best Director in 2011 for The King's Speech, also directed the first two episodes of the series. Dawn Shadforth, Otto Bathhurst, Euros Lyn and Jamie Childs also direct over the course of Season 1.

How many seasons will there be?

His Dark Materials has already been picked up for a second season -- the BBC renewed it shortly after production had begun on Season 1. Each season will have eight episodes. The series hasn't been picked up for a third season, but that doesn't seem too far out of the realm of possibility given that the original book series is a trilogy and the seasons seem to roughly correspond to each book. That being said, nothing is guaranteed. But the BBC's confidence in renewing the series early on in production is likely a good sign.

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