fri 12/07/2024

The Luminaries, BBC One review - one of the most visually arresting dramas of the year | reviews, news & interviews

The Luminaries, BBC One review - one of the most visually arresting dramas of the year

The Luminaries, BBC One review - one of the most visually arresting dramas of the year

Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel, this new big budget murder mystery sparkles and shines

Powerful performances: Eva Green and Eve Hewson

Alarm bells start ringing whenever you discover an author is adapting their own work for a screenplay. In the case of New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton, the alarm proves to be false. 

Over the course of seven years, and apparently 200 drafts of the first episode alone, Catton has eloquently distilled her 848-page novel The Luminaries into six 60-minute episodes for the BBC. In the process, shes stripped away the novel’s structure and a lot of its detail to create something more appropriate for a visual medium. The result is spectacular, but very different from the original work. 

The visually lavish drama is directed by Australian director Claire McCarthy who was behind Ophelia, the feminist spin on Hamlet, back in 2018. McCarthy and Catton make a potent creative duo, building an immersive world that plunges you into New Zealand during the Central Otago Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, where hopefuls flocked to these foreign shores with dreams of striking it rich. 

Himesh Patel and Eve Hewsen in The LuminariesAt its core, The Luminaries is a murder mystery revolving around the recently-arrived Irish immigrant Anna Wetherall (played by Eve Hewson, daughter of U2’s Bono) who over time becomes caught in a wicked web of greed and deception. We first meet Anna onboard a ship bound for New Zealands South Island. When she strikes up a conversation with a hopeful prospector Emery Staines (Yesterdays Himesh Patel, pictured above) romance is immediately in the air. Their wooing is put on hold when Anna reaches shore and meets seemingly benevolent amateur astrologist and saloon owner Lydia Wells (Eva Green), who lures her away from Staines and into her wicked web. 

The drama flits between two timelines: the first is Annas arrival and the latter when her fortunes have faltered, leading her into drug addiction, prostitution and finally being embroiled in a murder. We watch as shes discovered at the scene of the crime by an aspiring politician, Alistair Lauderback (Benedict Hardie). Shes barely conscious and dressed in a ragged ballgown which has gold stitched into the seams. Also, at the scene is Maori greenstone hunter Te Rau Tauwhare (Richard Te Are), who watches over the corpse.

The script, like the novel, has an arcane structure, with an erratic timeline that takes a while to adjust to. The busy plot can also be befuddling, making it difficult to become emotionally invested. 

However, what really holds your attention are the performances. Hewson is captivating as the plucky traveller out to seek her fortune. As soon as you see Eva Green in period garb its hard not to think of Penny Dreadful (especially because of the frequent references to the zodiac and a general air of mysticism). Nevertheless, she pulls it back from the brink, showing that shes as arresting an actor as ever. 

The Luminaries will be too frustrating for some, but even for those who havent read the novel, Catton and McCarthy have crafted one of the most visually arresting dramas of the year. 



I'm afraid I will not be following this. I gave up after about 20 minutes as it seemed to be shot in total darkness most of the time. What is the point?

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