An Introduction To BBC’s New Adventure Adaptation The Luminaries

An Introduction To BBC’s New Adventure Adaptation The Luminaries

A Tale Of Love And Murder

BBC’s adaptation of Man Booker winner The Luminaries started yesterday and here’s a introduction to it from its author Eleanor Catton, who also adapted it…

An introduction by Eleanor Catton

It took me five years to write The Luminaries, and another seven to adapt the novel for the screen. As a novelist I tend to write only one draft, constantly circling back to the beginning, and refining as I go; once I reach the end, the book is done. Screenwriting couldn’t be more different. By the time we started shooting in late 2018, I had written perhaps 200 drafts of the first episode alone, and throughout the shoot, the scripts continued to change in order to fit the budget and the schedule, both of which got tighter by the day.

This was often heartbreaking – a novelist never has to cut a scene they think is working! But it could be exhilarating too, as when the set design introduced new possibilities for action, or when the actors had ideas for improvements to their scenes.

Episode six would have wound up quite differently if it hadn’t been for the brilliant plot solutions provided by Eva Green and Márton Csokas (Lydia Wells and Francis Carver), whom I inadvertently offended early in the shoot by referring to their characters as ‘the villains’. I didn’t mean it at all pejoratively – I love villains! – but immediately had to backtrack when I saw that I had caused offence. Of course: Eva was Lydia, and Márton was Carver; they experienced the story from their characters’ points of view. For them, it was a tragedy and they were the doomed heroes. (This is what makes them such great villains.)

Sitting in a make-up tent listening to Eve Hewson (Anna Wetherell) describe her character’s inner life was unexpectedly moving to me: She understands Anna so much better than I ever did, I thought, but then of course – she was Anna, she knew her from the inside out.

Near the end of the shoot, I saw Himesh Patel (Emery Staines) pass something to Eve on camera. When the take had ended, I asked the script supervisor what he’d given her. It was the button from her sleeve that she’d given him in episode one; he’d had the idea to surprise her by giving it back, in what is now one of the loveliest moments in the show. How very like Emery, to do that, I thought, and of course, it was.

People often asked me on set, is it like what you imagined, when you wrote the book? The answer – very happily – was “not in the slightest”. So many different kinds of artistry and expertise go into the making of a television series, and every frame of the finished product shows the talent and efforts of hundreds of people in hundreds of ways. It’s far greater than anything any one person’s imagination could contain.

When The Luminaries was first published, I knew the book so well that if someone opened the book at random and read out three or four words, I could finish the sentence – and then keep going, sometimes for more than a page. I can’t do that any more; in fact, when I open the novel now, it feels very alien and even a little frightening. I start to doubt that I was ever its author in the first place.

The strangeness is partly due to the fact that the show reinvents the novel so thoroughly, turning the story inside out and back to front, beginning near the end of the book, splitting the narrative into two different timelines, and following characters who in the novel are important but largely obscured.

In a deeper sense, though, the story no longer feels as though it belongs to me alone. I’ve lived with these characters and this world for all my adult life, and it’s a great feeling, now, to see the story all grown up and leaving home.

Series synopsis

An epic adventure mystery based on the Man Booker prize-winning novel of the same name. Set on the wild West coast of New Zealand’s South Island at the height of the 1860s gold rush, The Luminaries tells an intricately woven, suspenseful tale of love, murder, magic, and revenge.

The story begins in 1865. Anna Wetherell (Eve Hewson) has travelled to New Zealand to forge a new life. On the last day of her voyage, a romantic first encounter with the radiant Emery Staines (Himesh Patel) fills her with great expectations for what lies ahead. But the scheming fortune-teller Lydia Wells (Eva Green) has other ideas for Anna, and lays a trap to ensure that the planned rendezvous between the young lovers never takes place.

Deceived, swindled, and betrayed, Anna’s fortunes begin to fall. She is drawn into an elaborate plot of blackmail, involving opium, gold, shipwreck, fraud, and false identity, which ultimately finds her framed for murder and fighting for her life.

But the bond between these star-crossed lovers is more than mere affinity. Anna and Emery are what is known as ‘astral twins’: they were born at the very same instant, and under the very same sky, which means that they share a single destiny.

When Emery vanishes without a trace, leaving Anna without an alibi for a murder she did not commit, the noose of the plot begins to tighten around her. Faced with the impossible, she must ask: do we make our fortunes, or does fortune make us?

Cast and Crew

Eva Green – Lydia Wells

Eve Hewson – Anna Wetherell

Himesh Patel – Emery Staines

Ewen Leslie – Crosbie Wells

Marton Csokas – Francis Carver

Benedict Hardie – Alistair Lauderback

Erik Thomson – Dick Mannering

Richard Te Are – Te Rau Tauwhare

Callan Mulvey – George Shepard

Kieran Charnock – Edgar Clinch

Paolo Rotondo – Aubert Gascoigne

Yoson An – Sook Yongsheng

Matt Whelan – Cowell Devlin

Joel Tobeck  – Benjamin Lowenthal

Matt Sunderland – Joseph Prichard

Byron Coll – Charlie Frost

Erroll Shand – Harald Nilssen

Gary Young – Quee Long

Mark Mitchinson – Thomas Balfour

Michael Sheasby – Walter Moody


Eleanor Catton – Writer, Creator and Executive Producer for Working Title Television

Mona Qureshi – Executive Producer for the BBC

Tim Bevan – Executive Producer for Working Title Television

Andrew Woodhead – Executive Producer for Working Title Television

Eric Fellner – Executive Producer for Working Title Television

Christian Vesper – Executive Producer for Fremantle

Claudia Bluemhuber – Executive Producer for Silver Reel

Tim White Executive Producer for Southern Light Films

Lisa Chatfield – Producer

Judith Trye – Co-Producer

Luke Robinson – Associate Producer

Claire McCarthy – Director, Executive Producer

Felicity Abbott – Production Designer

Edward K. Gibbon – Costume Designer

Denson Baker – Director of Photography

Jane O’Kane – Make-Up Designer

Alastair Reid – Supervising Editor

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