His Dark Materials Wikipedia description: “The show follows the orphan Lyra, played by Dafne Keen, as she searches for a missing friend and discovers a kidnapping plot related to an invisible cosmic substance called Dust.”
Why I took it off the list: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the most successful children’s fantasy novel series of all time, but always faced an uphill battle when it came to adapting the material for the screen. For one, it’s insanely ambitious.
Secondly, the only previous attempt to bring the trilogy to the screen, The Golden Compass (2007), fell a bit flat and didn’t make it past the first installment. While it had its moments, it mostly felt like a watered-down version of Pullman’s world, particularly the anti-organized religion commentary so deeply embedded in its narrative.
That second issue might be why the HBO/BBC adaptation of the books has failed to make much of an impact, with a lot of people even totally unaware of its existence. As I noted in my review of series 2, I almost gave up on the show during the first season because I felt like it didn’t do enough to differentiate it from the film and still felt like a rather flat adaptation.
Luckily though, I stuck through the (much better) season 2 and had higher hopes the 3rd series could stick the landing. And I was eager to see it do so.
Review of His Dark Materials Season 3
In its first series, His Dark Materials already had to introduce us to a complex story told across multiple worlds, some of them populated with strange creatures and humans with animal-shaped spiritual companions, and mildly succeeded. It then managed to significantly up its game in season 2 with an expanded sense of scale and vastly improved special effects.
Still, HBO and BBC had a monumental task in tackling an adaptation of the 3rd book in Pullman’s series, The Amber Spyglass, featuring as it does a trip to the literal Land of the Dead and a battle against the Kingdom of Heaven itself. Such tricky concepts could have been this series’ undoing, but happily, the show largely manages to nail the epic scale of the book.
Although it maintains the somewhat muted, semi-realistic feel of what came before, it’s clear that the showrunners have gone all out in making sure this adaptation of The Amber Spyglass is visually stunning. The otherwordly vistas are moody and atmospheric, the daemons look more lifelike and believable than ever before, and they even manage to do the mulefa justice (book readers will share my surprise!).
Storywise, there is a lot going on, and some of the subplots can feel superfluous, while others feel drawn out. But even if all the elements don’t always gel well together, it’s still refreshing to see a fantasy series try out bold ideas rather than stick to the same formula.
Ruth Wilson Continues to Rule
Overall, the performances in His Dark Materials continue to be engrossing and believable in its 3rd season, greatly helping the audience swallow the increasingly fantastical elements of this world. Daphe Keen and Amir Wilson seem to have really grown into their roles, although (as in the books), they get sidelined in the chaos of the climatic heavenly conflict. However, they get a real chance to shine in the emotional last episode.
Simone Kirby also continues to be a real standout as scientist Mary Malone, the ‘Serpent’ to Lyra’s ‘Eve’. What I remember being a rather one-note character from the books is given real emotional depth by Kirby’s performance, and she perfectly embodies Mary’s warm empathy and inquiring mind.
James MacAvoy returns in a prominent role as Lord Asriel after largely sitting out the second season. Although as charismatic as always, he somewhat fails to convincingly portray some of Asriel’s darker and colder sides (it is the incredibly likable James McAvoy after all). On the other hand, Ruta Gedmintas, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Andrew Scott all give stronger turns than in previous seasons, despite their limited screen time.
The biggest draw actor-wise, however, remains Ruth Wilson as the complex villainess Marisa Coulter. She is utterly compelling in every scene she graces, and totally sells her character’s actions even in some of the most fantastical settings. Here’s hoping she gets to play such a juicy, morally grey character again soon.
Final Score: 7/10
His Dark Materials Season 3: Worth Watching?
Yes, His Dark Materials series 3 continues the uptick in the quality of the second season with a visually impressive conclusion that does its source material justice. The anti-authoritarian themes are intact and well-articulated, and the compelling cast help to make it an engaging, and even emotional, experience.
His Dark Materials Season 3 (2022)
Created by Jack Thorne (based on the novels by Philip Pullman)
Cast: Dafne Keen, Amir Wilson, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy
[…] Yes. A vast improvement over season 1, His Dark Materials really hits its stride during its adaptation of the second book in the series, delivering a far more propulsive narrative and well-conveyed bigger scale than the first time around. Fingers crossed it can stick the landing when/if it gets to The Amber Spyglass. […]
[…] just premiered or was still airing episodes when I published the list in late November (so, sorry, His Dark Materials season 3!), as I don’t think enough time has passed for them to become underrated or […]