News

His Dark Materials First Reviews: Logan’s Dafne Keen Dazzles in Game of Thrones–Sized Fantasy

HBO's sumptuous series brings Phil Pullman's book to the small screen. Will it succeed where The Golden Compass movie failed?

by | October 25, 2019 | Comments

HBO and BBC have joined forces on His Dark Materials, an edgy, effects-heavy, family friendly fantasy television series. For fans of Phil Pullman’s book, The Golden Compass — which this is a new adaptation of — the TV show has been a long time coming. The eight-episode first season of the series, which is set to hit HBO on November 4, stars Logan‘s Dafne Keen as Lyra Belacqua, James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Ruth Wilson as Marisa Coulter, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby, in a program that is sounding more-and-more like the network’s next attempt at Game of Thrones greatness.

Die-hard fans of Pullman’s work have been wary; after all, we’ve been here before. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Eva Green, and Ian McKellan all starred in 2007 feature film The Golden Compass. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies brought in big money for New Line and its parent company Warner Bros. Pictures, and The Golden Compass might have been the next big thing, but the movie was stripped of the book’s critical religious themes, replacing narrative complexities with happier elements. The film bombed big time, leading the studio to scrap its sequel plans.

This brings us back to His Dark Materials, produced in part with another Time Warner media property, HBO. The eight-episode first season of the fantasy series aims to tap back into the lush world Pullman originally imagined in 1995. Will the show translate Pullman’s fantastical homage to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, while maintaining the dark undertones that were lost in the movie? From its lush effects and talking animals to the good-vs-evil, classist elements of the story, there’s a lot to unpack. Will the program resonate with today’s audiences?

Here’s what the critics are saying about season 1 of HBO’s His Dark Materials.


His Dark Materials s1 keyart (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE BOOK?

Fans of the books will be glad to know that care has been taken to get it right this time. From what I’ve seen so far, nothing of consequence has been left out. — Robert Lloyd, The Los Angeles Times

Despite the rich complexities of the novel’s world of daemons, power-hungry players and warring faiths, HBO’s “His Dark Materials” feels like it could have been plucked from most any other fantasy epic out there. — Caroline Framke, Variety

National Treasure screenwriter (and screenwriting national treasure) Jack Thorne has pulled off the improbable if not quite the impossible, delivering an engaging and sumptuous take on Pullman’s world that cleaves impressively close to the books while still making a few tweaks for the visual medium. — Huw Fullerton, Radio Times


DOES THE ENSEMBLE CAST DELIVER?

Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

Keen is spellbinding. She is modern enough not to alienate the younger audience members but also possesses a sort of old-fashioned pluck that helps to propel the action. Among the adult cast, James McAvoy is commanding as Asriel, while Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter is like an irresistibly enigmatic screen siren from a Forties film noir. — Ben Lawrence, Daily Telegraph

Dafne Keen, recognisable from 2017 X-Men film Logan, plays main character Lyra with willfulness and spark. James McAvoy is terrific as her Byronic uncle Lord Asriel, while you’d call Ruth Wilson a revelation as the glamorous and mysterious Mrs Coulter if she weren’t always this watchable. — Louisa Mellor, Den of Geek

Only Lin-Manuel Miranda, as “aeronaut for hire” Lee Scoresby, hits a false note. The actor wears his fedora at a determinedly rakish tilt, but his swagger (and his intermittent Southern drawl) are more playacting than performance. — Kristen Baldwin, EW


Ioryk Byrnison the bear in His Dark Materials (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

HOW ARE THE VISUAL EFFECTS?

While we’re on the subject of the way things look, everything from the tourist-board realism of the canals, via the cobbled streets inhabited by the Gyptians (a group of water travellers whose children are going missing), up to the skyline of Oxford, are sumptuous examples of imagination manifested. — Matt Rodgers, Flickering Myth

All the lavish CGI has other limitations. The more ambitious it gets, the more studio-bound the acting becomes. You can’t help remembering that the stars are performing in front of green screens, talking to imaginary animals and running through unseen buildings. — Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail


James McAvoy in His Dark Materials (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

SO, IS THIS THE NEXT GAME OF THRONES?

This is an ambitious series that tackles some lofty themes about power and faith while still giving us spectacular special effects and thrilling action sequences. In short, this is HBO’s first series that has the scale of Game of Thrones but is accessible for all ages. — Alex Maidy, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

His Dark Materials is very much a fantasy series made in the aftermath of Game of Thrones, with the story’s more fantastical elements given as much weight as the conspiratorial mysteries and complicated character dynamics. — Hoi-Tran-Bui, SlashFilm


His Dark Materials season 1 premieres on Monday, November  4 on HBO.


Adjusted Score: 87.746%
Critics Consensus: The daemon is in the details and while His Dark Materials visual splendor and exceptional performances deftly capture the essence of Philip Pullman's seminal novels, it could use a little more magic.
Synopsis: An adaptation of Philip Pullman's acclaimed trilogy "His Dark Materials," considered a modern masterpiece of imaginative fiction. The first series... [More]

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

Showtime First Reviews Heroines E3 latino PBS fast and furious TCA mockumentary FOX 2020 spy thriller sequel BAFTA video space Fantasy Bravo Television Academy dramedy Dark Horse Comics 2015 anthology FX name the review universal monsters free movies nature GIFs james bond New York Comic Con Country Comics on TV cancelled TV series ID streaming IFC Films Freeform historical drama spanish Netflix Christmas movies casting jamie lee curtis superhero 71st Emmy Awards discovery 20th Century Fox Captain marvel BET Awards Kids & Family directors rotten movies we love FXX CNN movie Star Trek festivals harry potter Horror criterion Mindy Kaling Reality Competition Cosplay TV cults Universal Toys franchise USA SundanceTV OneApp See It Skip It vampires Nickelodeon Elton John fresh Lifetime Christmas movies Infographic football Masterpiece dark Ellie Kemper TV Land Spectrum Originals Walt Disney Pictures independent die hard zero dark thirty GLAAD mutant kids venice Lifetime Nominations Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cancelled TV shows comic VICE DC Universe south america technology children's TV 21st Century Fox ESPN Rock boxing true crime game show movies 99% Pet Sematary Mary poppins festival indie Apple TV Plus Baby Yoda NYCC facebook cinemax IFC Food Network Awards deadpool halloween tv scary movies Teen 2018 concert Paramount Plus Disney streaming service talk show sitcom Paramount American Society of Cinematographers The Walking Dead BBC YouTube Premium Sundance Now joker BBC One social media anime blockbuster Summer Spring TV Women's History Month award winner Trivia australia animated A24 Ovation Tumblr comic books Chernobyl spanish language Comedy Central Comedy Apple TV+ Arrowverse Trophy Talk archives Tarantino FX on Hulu Tubi 45 TCM BBC America Family series Peacock psycho 2017 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Film batman Certified Fresh 72 Emmy Awards cancelled television tv talk revenge Turner comics Sundance crime thriller Marathons Awards Tour twilight singing competition renewed TV shows Super Bowl screenings APB HBO Adult Swim news Trailer serial killer justice league TruTV Amazon Oscars MCU video on demand japanese Britbox canceled TV shows stand-up comedy travel biography Polls and Games robots Music doctor who 2016 Superheroes Grammys psychological thriller MSNBC italian Brie Larson sports Disney Plus cars christmas movies Endgame Animation disaster finale adventure Esquire reboot Mudbound Superheroe TCA 2017 WarnerMedia rotten Winter TV Watching Series crime drama Premiere Dates classics comedies comiccon what to watch Travel Channel Fox Searchlight cops CBS USA Network dogs Calendar Cannes best A&E Stephen King Mary Poppins Returns DirecTV Thanksgiving parents Sundance TV Year in Review Rom-Com Red Carpet MTV politics thriller TCA Winter 2020 crime Video Games Mystery Starz Set visit Opinion Vudu teaser TV renewals romantic comedy Marvel Television Critics Association Disney Channel all-time Disney+ Disney Plus Pride Month TBS foreign AMC Logo cartoon Mary Tyler Moore transformers Classic Film Alien miniseries Quiz PlayStation Disney spinoff Sneak Peek Discovery Channel book TV One cooking green book Sci-Fi Western hispanic VOD Lucasfilm Marvel Television Holiday game of thrones ITV hollywood Hulu Emmys strong female leads Acorn TV Crackle TIFF The CW trailers spider-man ABC Signature women Netflix Emmy Nominations Martial Arts diversity Comic Book President composers spain Paramount Network Pop TV nfl Interview hist versus 2019 chucky Cartoon Network GoT SXSW Turner Classic Movies Amazon Prime Video reviews zombies TLC Binge Guide werewolf ABC Family Christmas worst movies satire Anna Paquin Star Wars aliens LGBTQ based on movie CW Seed SDCC Shudder CBS All Access Musical The Witch YouTube nbcuniversal Pirates zombie canceled Creative Arts Emmys VH1 Reality films Black History Month period drama docudrama elevated horror TNT NBC Marvel Studios X-Men Best and Worst LGBT Lionsgate political drama Character Guide BET ratings obituary Action toy story golden globe awards Tomatazos war documentary Drama scorecard mission: impossible Ghostbusters Avengers documentaries CMT cats Academy Awards Podcast science fiction Warner Bros. Winners Photos black theme song adaptation Musicals cancelled HBO Max child's play dragons San Diego Comic-Con Apple golden globes a nightmare on elm street unscripted Fall TV sequels Biopics boxoffice 007 halloween french richard e. Grant YouTube Red worst YA asian-american DGA 24 frames OWN Nat Geo laika Countdown ghosts Box Office witnail E! remakes PaleyFest Film Festival Fox News WGN toronto Amazon Prime Extras dc emmy awards breaking bad romance Shondaland DC Comics stoner Black Mirror police drama Hallmark Hallmark Christmas movies quibi 4/20 sag awards natural history Funimation indiana jones binge blaxploitation HBO Go History The Academy ViacomCBS El Rey slashers First Look critics Columbia Pictures The Arrangement Sony Pictures screen actors guild Hear Us Out The Walt Disney Company Spike Amazon Studios dceu DC streaming service Valentine's Day Song of Ice and Fire Pop Election Holidays 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards jurassic park stop motion pirates of the caribbean Syfy supernatural ABC Rocketman RT History crossover National Geographic rt archives TCA Awards Crunchyroll RT21 rom-coms Schedule Writers Guild of America The Purge television medical drama Rocky Pixar Epix