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Last year it was announced that the BBC will produce a TV mini-series based on Phillip Pullman’s popular and critically acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy – The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Doctor Who producers Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner are producing the adaptation and Jack Throne (This is England ’86, This is England ’88, This is England ’90) is adapting the novels to TV.
We at Entertainment Fuse have already announced our dream cast for the series and since it is the norm for one director to helm a whole mini-series in the UK let us look at 10 directors who should be considered to helm the series. Whoever takes on the series needs to able to bring the complex themes and ideas from the books to the screen, handle the lavish production values and the various fantasy aspects that place the series in our world – a Victorian steampunk world, a creepy world of children and spectres and a battle of biblical proportions, while also being able to satisfy adults and young adults alike.
Danish director Susanne Bier has had a long career directing movies like Brothers, After the Wedding, Things We Lost in the Fire and the Oscar winning In a Better World. She has recently found success on TV, directing all six episodes of The Night Manager, an ensemble spy drama that has been described as a sexed up version of John le Carré.
Bier is a dramatic director and can handle complicated narratives as anyone who has read a John le Carré novel can attest to. The His Dark Materials trilogy was also a complex set of novels and whoever adapts them needs to balance the numerous converging storylines, reflecting the various worlds and ideas created in the novels.
The risk with Bier is her experience has mostly been in contemporary dramas with little experience working in historical, sci-fi or fantasy genres. With In a Better World, a movie about two young boys who go down a dark path – a storyline that would fit Will’s story – shows that she can work with young actors. Bier is also considered to be one of the favorites to become the next Bond director.
At 36 Tom Harper is a director who is on the rise, working on TV shows for the BBC and Channel 4. He has most recently worked on the BBC’s War & Peace miniseries that was adapted by Andrew Davis (Pride and Prejudice –1995, Bleak House). The adaptation was a big budget epic that was shot in Russia and Lithuania that ran for six episodes and had a ensemble cast, including the likes of Lily James (Cinderella), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood), Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson and Brain Cox. This alone shows that Harper can handle an epic period drama – which are desired skills for anyone set to direct His Dark Materials.
As well as working on War & Peace, Harper has directed episodes of the popular BBC’s crime drama Peaky Blinders, a show that is set in Birmingham, England in the early 20th Century. Created by screenwriter Steven Knight, Peaky Blinders also has an ensemble cast, starring Cillian Murphy, Sam Neil and Helen McCrory. Harper worked on the final three episodes of the first series.
Harper also directed an adaptation of The Borrowers for the BBC back in 2011 and episodes of Misfits and This is England ’86 for Channel Four. Harper clearly has the ability to convert major novels into successful TV shows, having the skills to match the lavish production values His Dark Materials would require and he has provided a mix of period dramas, sci-fi and working with a popular children’s novel.
Harper’s film career has yet to take off – his most recent movie was the horror sequel The Woman in Black: Angel of Death that only mustered a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet if he is able to handle a project like His Dark Materials Harper may receive movie offers with better scripts.
Harper has worked with Jack Throne in the past, directing the movies The Scouting Boy for Boys and War Book based on Throne’s screenplays.
Polish director Agnieszka Holland has had a long career working on film and TV. Three of her movies have even been nominated for an Academy Award – Angry Harvest, Europa Europa and In Darkness. Perhaps Holland’s most famous movie was her adaptation of The Secret Garden, based on the popular children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden has some similarities to His Dark Materials especially The Golden Compass – both are set in Victorian England and focus on intelligent yet precocious young girls of roughly the same age who are fighting off an authority figure.
Much of Holland’s work consists of historical dramas, her Oscar nominated movies were about the Holocaust and her other credits include Total Eclipse, Washington Square, Copying Beethoven and the HBO miniseries Burning Bush. She has also worked on high-end shows like The Wire, Treme and the American version of The Killing.
Holland would be a high-caliber choice if she was chosen to helm the mini-series.
Tom Hooper is an Oscar-winning director best known for making The King’s Speech and Les Misérables and could do any project he wants – he is currently linked with a film adaptation of Cats. But he would be a perfect choice to adapt His Dark Materials.
Hooper started his career as a TV director, working on TV on shows and mini-series likes Eastenders, Prime Suspect, Elizabeth I and John Adams. Most of Hooper’s work has been of the historical drama type and this is why the Englishman would be a fantastic choice – he has a great eye for costumes and production design and his movies have a certain grit to them. The Damned United was a soccer drama set in the 70s and his team did a great job recreating the period, The King’s Speech had a gray filter to it and was mostly set during a foggy period – literally and metaphorically. Les Misérables was essentially a grittier version of a David Lean epic.
Hooper is skilled at adapted complex works, The Damned United was the best adaptation possible of an unfilmable novel and Les Misérables easily pleased fans of the musical and only made a few changes. Hooper is also a director unafraid to take risks – with Les Misérables he got all his actors to sing live on set instead of lip-syncing while The Danish Girl was a mainstream movie about the first sex change operation. His Dark Materials need a director who is willing to tackle the religious themes and have an epic eye, which Hooper can provide.
Despite his success with The King’s Speech and Les Misérables Hooper still has an affinity for television and he has directed commercials for Captain Morgan and Jaguar since becoming a famous film director.
James Kent is an experienced TV director in the UK, working on the critically acclaimed Marchlands for ITV and three episodes of the medieval drama The White Queen, the show that earned Rebecca Ferguson her role on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
As well as his experience working on TV, Kent made his feature film debut with the adaptation of Vera Brittain’s autobiography, Testament of Youth, starring Alicia Vikander. It’s his work on this movie that would proves Kent would be a good fit for His Dark Materials, sharing a lot of similarities with Joe Wright’s direction (more on him later). With cinematographer Rob Hardy, Kent gave Testament of Youth the look of classic paintings, from sunlit scenes showing the world before the First World War – while scenes set during the war are deliberately drab and colorless. Testament of Youth also had impressive period detail with its costume and set design – a skill any director would need to create Lyra’s world.
Hailing from Scotland, Colm McCarthy is an experienced TV director who has worked on many British TV shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock, Endeavour and The Tudors. McCarthy also directed all six episodes of Peaky Blinders‘ second season and two episodes of Ripper Street – both violent and gritty historical crime dramas that are expensive productions with critical acclaim. These shows would serve as a great basis for Lyra’s Victorian steampunk world – admittedly with less gore. McCarthy can blend these visuals with the more populist approach of Doctor Who and Sherlock.
As well as working on TV McCarthy has directed two movies. The first is the horror movie Outcast which featured Kate Dickie, James Nesbitt and Karen Gillan. The second is based on the critically acclaimed sci-fi novel The Girl With All the Gifts, set in a world 20 years after an inflection effects humanity that makes people feed on human flesh. But it’s not just the zombies that are a threat, as the trailer for The Girl With All the Gifts makes it look similar to 28 Days Later. The film will be in theaters in the UK on September 23, 2016.
McCarthy is also attached to direct the pilot of Krypton, a prequel to Superman looking at the life of Jor-El and his father.
Another young TV director with a growing reputation is William McGregor. At only 28 (29 this year), McGregor has already directed episodes of Misfits and Poldark – two radically different programs, which combined should work for His Dark Materials. Misfists was a sci-fi comedy-drama about a group of young adults developing super powers when performing community service and McGregor worked on the fifth series. On Poldark – a period drama based on a series of Winston Graham novels – McGregor worked on the final four episodes. The finale of season one was especially praised, being described by the Daily Telegraph as “one of those rare occasions when a popular drama series delivers something that properly belongs to art.”
As well as working on television, McGregor has made numerous shorts and commercials for Sega, Google and Ford. McGregor has also won a multitude of awards for his work in short form and on television, including the Best Drama Royal Television Award and Coca-Cola Cinemagic Young Filmmaker of the Year Award for his short Who’s Afraid of the Water Sprite?
McGregor is currently working on his debut feature film, The Dark Outside which is described on IMDB as ‘A British folk story set in the dark hills of Wales during the industrial revolution.’ The Dark Outside is based on McGregor’s fantasy short Who’s Afraid of the Water Sprite. If the movie turns out to be a success it could serve as a strong template for how McGregor could handle a property like His Dark Materials.
Marc Munden is a TV director who has specialized in making historical dramas. His credits include the 1998 adaptation of Vanity Fair for the BBC, The English Civil War drama The Devil’s Whore, which gave Andrea Riseborough and Michael Fassbender early roles, and The Crimson Petal and the White, a period drama about a prostitute in Victorian London who sets out to escape her life. These dramas where praised by both critics and audiences. Munden can clearly handle the period setting of Lyra’s world, both the urban and industrial settings and the historical style battles.
As well as working on historical dramas, Munden has also directed six episodes of Channel Four’s Utopia – a sci-fi mystery that earned a cult following. Utopia follows a group of people who are drawn together because they gain access to a graphic novel that predicted the worst disasters, but get targeted by a mysterious organization known as The Network. Munden could combine historical visuals and the complex plotting and genre approach of Utopia for His Dark Materials.
Munden also had success with the TV film The Mark of Cain, winning a BAFTA and the Showbank Show award for Best TV drama.
Starting his career as a storyboard artist, Londoner Miguel Sapochnik has become a successful TV director in America, working on his shows like Fringe, True Detective, Masters of Sex and Falling Skies. His biggest achievement in his TV career is working on the final two episodes in the sixth season of Game of Thrones, ‘Battle of the Bastards‘ and ‘The Wind of Winter‘.
Both ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘The Wind of Winter’ were met with near universal acclaim, especially ‘Battle of the Bastards’ which has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ was a special effects laden episode, costing $10 million and took 25 days to film. It was an episode heavy in special effects along with practical battle sequences, and was also praised for how it dealt with the Stark family’s revenge against the Boltons. ‘The Wind of Winter’ was also notable for ending tying up plotlines and advancing story arcs for the upcoming seventh season.
Sapochnik can easily handle the dramatic moments, the complex fantasy worlds and the special effects required for the show, but he has only handled individual episodes and not directed a whole mini-series. However, he did make Repo Men, a sci-fi action B-movie starring Jude Law and Forest Whittaker.
Joe Wright is a successful film director, best known for his adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, while his action movie Hanna earned a cult audience and was considered by many to have a fairy tale quality to it. However, his most recent movie the fantasy prequel Pan was a critical and commercial dud, so a move to television may be a great way to bounce back. After all, Neil Marshall was able to have a comeback working on Game of Thrones and Black Sails.
Wright started his career working on TV mini-series in the UK, the biggest being historical drama Charles II: The Power and the Passion that ran for four episodes. His experience working in costume and historical dramas would put Wright in a great position because a huge portion of the novels were set in Lyra’s world and Wright and his team would clearly be capable in producing fantastic costumes and sets.
Wright is also famous for having a classical visual style – he is influenced by classic paintings. He could go to the Tate Britain for influence, especially for the religious paintings. Wright would be a fantastic fit for the show – he could recreate the worlds of the novels on the screen and as he proved with Pan, he can handle the grand scale of a fantasy epic with a flair for special effects filmmaking.