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Dafne Keen Leaps from ‘Logan’ to ‘His Dark Materials’

‘Les Misérables’ director Tom Hooper is slated to helm the eight-part series.
Dafne Keen Logan
By  · Published on March 9th, 2018

The young actress joins Lin-Manuel Miranda in the eight-part series.

Things did not go extremely well the first time Philip Pullman’s iconic children’s book series “His Dark Materials” was adapted for the screen. The Golden Compass, directed by Chris Weitz and starring Nicole Kidman, had a rather lukewarm response from critics and book fans for being the most basic of adaptations. After grossing just $70 million at home, its sequels were quickly scrapped and “His Dark Materials” has remained untouched since.

However, the BBC announced in 2015 that it was commissioning a new series based on Pullman’s trilogy, which is comprised of “Northern Lights,” “The Subtle Knife,” and “The Amber Spyglass.” Entertainment Weekly now reports that Logan breakout Dafne Keen and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda have signed onto to star and veteran drama director Tom Hooper will be at the helm. Jack Thorne, the highly sought-after scribe of Wonder, will write the adaptation.

His Dark Materials follows Lyra (Keen), a young orphan on a quest to find a kidnapped friend before she eventually runs into Will, a boy who can traverse worlds and parallel universes. Starting out in a world that’s not too far off from regular Earth in the Victorian era, the story soon introduces fantasy creatures including witches and armored polar bears. Throughout their adventures, they run into Lee Scoresby (Miranda), a Texan balloonist and sharp shooter. Furthermore, one of the most prominent aspects of the series is its focus on religion, specifically Christianity. Given all that happens in the three books, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that each one could fill a season of His Dark Materials in the long run.

These first attachment announcements could feasibly fast-track the series into production without much of a hitch. Hooper is a lauded director in Hollywood, having helmed the 2011 Best Picture winner The King’s Speech, for which he also received the Oscar for Best Director. His follow-up films Les Misérables and The Danish Girl were more polarizing, although both were highly praised for their performances. Hooper also has experience directing critically acclaimed miniseries, having helmed HBO’s Emmy Award-winning John Adams.

That being said, Hooper feels like one of those filmmakers that people love to hate. “The King’s Speech vs. The Social Network” will forever be a thing. And Hooper is adapting the internet’s least favorite musical, “Cats,” which could further inspire more ire than goodwill. But his real issue is that he just leans towards the more conventional side of filmmaking and usually tackles straightforward dramas that are proficient (and sometimes lavish and beautiful) but ultimately not very narratively innovative. Perhaps His Dark Materials will let him move past textbook awards bait with the more fantastical elements of the series.

Miranda is slowly building his own resume outside of being a Broadway musical sensation after two smash hits onstage, In the Heights and Hamilton. Mary Poppins Returns, which is due out at Christmas this year, will be his first starring role in a feature film. The news of his casting in His Dark Materials seems to have divided fans — some picture the character as a wizened, weathered adventurer, and find it difficult to imagine the young, bubbly Miranda in the role. That said, there are also fans who adore the casting; if he could pull off playing the imperfect, conflicted Alexander Hamilton onstage, he could pull off playing Scoresby. His Dark Materials will be Miranda’s next foray into a fantasy series, as he is also working on an adaptation of The Kingkiller Chronicle for Showtime.

Keen is really the one to look out for, because we’ve been wondering what she would be up to next ever since she stole scenes and our hearts in Logan. It’s notoriously difficult to track which child actors are primed to have longevity in the film industry. It’s probably easy for kids to steal our hearts by simply being cute, so who is more likely to make it past the stage of precociousness? There are also a ton of talented kids out there these days. Stranger Things and It have especially proven the true power of young actors. But Keen definitely stood out for conveying so much without uttering a word for most of Logan. Whether she’s expressing contempt or curiosity, the audience is easily transfixed by her contemplative gaze and things only get better when she starts talking. Moreover, Logan is a testament to Keen’s ability to lead a giant tentpole movie, indicating that she could definitely do the same thing with a series while challenging her with a different kind of lead character.

Deadline notes that both Apple and Netflix are vying for the distribution rights to the His Dark Materials adaptation. Also touted as one of the most expensive British dramas to date, the series has a lot to live up to. But given Hooper’s credentials and Keen’s potential, His Dark Materials is most probably in good hands.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)