In Depth

His Dark Materials: is TV the best place for Pullman's fantasy?

After Golden Compass voted most disappointing movie adaptation, critics hope BBC can do better

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BBC One has commissioned an eight-part television series based on Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, eight years after The Golden Compass failed to impress fans of the books.

The story of Lyra and her daemon alter ego Pantalaimon living in an alternate world has been retold on stage, on radio and in the 2007 Hollywood film The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

However, the film was voted the most disappointing movie adaptation by Entertainment Weekly in 2008, and plans to adapt Pullman's follow-up books The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass were shelved.

Critics are hoping that the BBC might be more successful in bringing the fantasy novels to life.

The series is set to be filmed in Wales and will be the first commission for production company Bad Wolf, run by former Doctor Who producers Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner.

Pullman is on board and said he is "delighted" at the prospect of a television adaptation. "In recent years we've seen how long stories on television, whether adaptations (Game of Thrones) or original (The Sopranos, The Wire), can reach depths of characterisation and heights of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for consequences to unravel," he said.

One of the problems critics had with the film was the way it was cut in post-production, but The Guardian says producers have promised to "sound 'every note' in the much-loved trilogy and stay true to the source material".

Den of Geek says television already seems to have a "distinct advantage over cinema in terms of giving Pullman's story room to breathe". However, it warns the television writers against "writing to avoid upset", as the BBC is expected to reawaken controversy over the books' portrayal of established religion. It upset various arms of the Christian church, prompted protests and from 2000 to 2009 sat among the ten books people tried most often to ban across America.

The Golden Compass director, Chris Weitz, previously admitted to having a "bad experience" making the film and blamed the studio for "emasculating" the project when they "took the religion out of it and tried to turn it into a popcorn movie", notes Digital Spy.

Den of Geek warns the BBC makers: "It would be understandable, if regrettable, if His Dark Materials' anti-religious ire was made less potent, but this should not be the case."

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