HBO brings Philip Pullman's trilogy to life in 'His Dark Materials'

  • Lyra (Dafne Keen) proves to be no ordinary teen in "His Dark Materials," premiering Monday, Nov. 4, on HBO.

    Lyra (Dafne Keen) proves to be no ordinary teen in "His Dark Materials," premiering Monday, Nov. 4, on HBO. Courtesy of HBO

 
By George Dickie
Gracenote
Updated 11/4/2019 6:15 AM

In a fantastical world resembling Victorian England, a girl sets out in search of her kidnapped friend. Where the quest takes her drives the storyline of a series premiering this week on HBO.

From the outset of "His Dark Materials," based on Philip Pullman's award-winning trilogy of the same name and debuting Monday, Nov. 4, it's clear that Lyra (Dafne Keen) is no average teen. She's gutsy, determined and very intelligent, gifts that are nurtured by her instructors at the Magisterium, a Big Brother-esque boarding school, and will serve her well as she seeks her fellow orphan Roger (Lewin Lloyd).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Her uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), is also preparing for an adventure of his own to the North, where a friend's expedition party has gone missing. It's a turbulent, frozen place where witches whisper of a child with a great destiny. Lyra isn't invited on this trip, much to her disappointment, but Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), a woman of considerable means and dubious motives, sees something special in the child and takes her under her wing. The girl accepts the opportunity willingly -- as did Keen when first offered the role.

Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) takes a special teen under her wing in "His Dark Materials," premiering Monday, Nov. 4, on HBO.
Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) takes a special teen under her wing in "His Dark Materials," premiering Monday, Nov. 4, on HBO. - Courtesy of HBO

"I feel it's very needed right now because we don't usually have young woman leads," the youthful British actress explained to a recent gathering of journalists in Beverly Hills, Calif. "We have more and more, thank God, but they're not something that we have in abundance, and especially having to portray a character who is so strong and is so determined and who is a hero is very fun to do, and I feel very privileged to be able to do that."

The eight-episode first season also stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Clarke Peters, James Cosmo, Anne-Marie Duff and Ariyon Bakare.

One of the more whimsical elements of this story are the daemons, digitized animal companions that personify each human character's soul and serve as their protector and adviser. Lyra's is Pan, a shape-shifting creature that moves between ferret, bird and possum, while Coulter's is a monkey and Asriel's is a snow leopard, all of which prove critical to each character's journey.

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"I didn't really see myself as Lord Asriel but I definitely have an inner snow leopard in me," McAvoy quips. " ... And it's just an interesting relationship with yourself, because you get to look at yourself and talk to yourself and talk to your soul, and you can't really hide from who you are in the way that people in our world can. So that was pretty interesting."

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"His Dark Materials"

Premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, on HBO

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