Where is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials filmed?

Where is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials filmed?

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A second season of the BBC’s hit adaptation of Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials was already in preparation before we saw the first – and, fortunately, it escaped almost unscathed from the pandemic. Already pitched as the most expensive drama the company has ever produced, it’s a hugely ambitious undertaking with a host of talent, from writer Jack Thorne (National Treasure, This Is England and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables) to actors Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

As you’d expect from a saga featuring a giant polar bear, a golden monkey and other animal-companion ‘daemons’, there’s a lot of CGI involved and so most of the series was shot in studio. For this, the production headed to Bad Wolf in Cardiff, where the six sound stages were put to use recreating a variety of locations around the world.

As well as interiors, such as the laboratory of Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), this included the northern kingdom of the bears, Svalbard, and the Gobblers’ headquarters in Bolvangar. For season two, the city of Cittàgazze, a parallel world, was also constructed in the studio.

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New College, Oxford

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There were, however, some location shoots. Much of the first season, based on Pullman’s Northern Lights, is set in a fictional college, Jordan, at the University of Oxford. For this, filming took place at the real-life 14th-century New College: the trailer shows lead Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) running in the chapel, a formal feast amid the wood panelling and stained glass of the dining hall, and a view of the front quad. Alongside this, scenes were shot in New College Lane, close to Pullman’s own former college of Exeter and the famed Bridge of Sighs, and also in Merton Street.

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New College Lane, Oxford

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Season two revisits Oxford, with episode two taking us on a chase past the university library in the centre of the city, inside the Radcliffe Camera, to the Radcliffe Observatory, an 18th-century space that, having ceased its original function in 1934, is now the centre of Green Templeton College. We see Lyra run through here on her way to the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Natural History, two adjoining neo-Gothic buildings on Parks Road that house an array of artefacts. After a momentous meeting here, she then goes to find physicist Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), who is housed for the production in medieval Magdalen College.

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From here, Lyra rejoins her companion Will Parry (Amir Wilson) at the city’s Botanic Garden. We see the monumental 1630s entrance arch but once inside, the two are really some way off in Dewstow Gardens, near Newport in Wales. Designed by a great Victorian eccentric, this is one of many filming locations in the country – Plasturton Gardens in Cardiff was also used to stand in for an Oxford street. In season one, the boat trip undertaken by the Gyptians under the leadership of Farder Coram (James Cosmo) was shot on the River Severn, near Sharpness Docks, midway between Cardiff and Oxford, while the fishing village of Trollesund was built in a disused quarry near Crickhowell, close to Abergavenny.

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Usk Reservoir


Season two also takes advantage of Wales’s wide-open spaces to film some significant scenes. We see Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) taking a journey on Usk Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons National Park, and then meeting a key character in Margam Country Park further south near Port Talbot. The production also ventured over the border to Bristol’s Blaise Museum, an 18th-century mansion filled with art and costume collections, which is related to the mysterious Boreal. World events allowing, expect season three to bring more outdoor adventure alongside the incredible studio-based world-building.

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Blaise Museum


‘His Dark Materials’ season two begins on BBC One on Sunday 8 November 2020

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