Close to two decades ago, an American author wrote a Young Adult fantasy series that would not only redefine the genre itself but forever change Hollywood. The author in question was Stephanie Meyer, whose ‘Twilight’ series was adapted into a money-spinning film franchise that made overnight stars out of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
While the box office and a multitude of teenage fantasy films and shows were witness to Hollywood’s quick encashment of the Young Adult genre, few have come even close to reaching Meyer’s dizzying heights until Deborah Harkness put pen to paper and write part one in the best-selling ‘All Souls Trilogy’, gamely called ‘A Discovery of Witches’.
Little did the American scholar and historian know that her debut novel would soon become a runaway hit and catch the eye of Bad Wolf productions and Sky Studios that was keen on producing a YA story that didn’t come with the baggage of ‘Twilight’ — or the fluff — but rather took an intellecutual route with its meticulous research to deliver its story.
The three-season series, named after the first book in the trilogy, recently came to a stunning conclusion for fans invested in the tale of Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, who discovers a bewitched manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library that causes a flutter in the world of magic, filled with demons, vampires and witches who live amongst us.
Diana is offered help by a mysterious geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont and despite a long-held mistrust between witches and vampires, they form an alliance and set out to protect the book and solve the mysteries hidden within while dodging threats from the creature world.
“When Jane Tranter [executive producer] first pitched it to series, it was immediately picked up. To really see the vision behind an adaptation of course starts with a great story on page and we need to thank Deborah Harkness for writing a beautiful trilogy which is so rich at its heart,” Lachlan MacKinnon, executive producer of the series said during a fan event that Gulf News was a part of.
MacKinnon also revealed that while Harkness was expected to be there by his side, the author is currently battling health issues after revealing in January that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“But so much we do for bringing the series from page to screen starts with the writing, so I think first we had to work very closely with the writers and figure out how to break those 600 pages down to eight episodes per season,” MacKinnon added.
While the series is largely a contemporary fantasy with the creatures taking human form and hiding in plain sight in a world around us, the scale of the show changed considerably when the lead character timewalked to the 1500s in season two, with the set and costume designers rising to the challenge of recreating Elizabethan London.
“When Diana and Matthew time walk to the 1500s, well, it’s such an amazing moment in history and it’s one that I wasn’t too familiar with before reading the novels. We went on a tour of London and Deb (Harkness) and our production designer just did the most amazing job in recreating Elizabethan London. We event went down to the National Portrait Gallery with our costume designer Sara Arthur who did the most amazing job,” MacKinnon revealed.
Good to be bad
While the chemistry between the show’s lead stars, Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode is undeniable, the spattering of villains in ‘A Discover of Witches’ commanded their own fan following with Owen Teale’s Peter Knox – a male witch who’s bent on harnessing the power of the magical manuscript discovered by Diana – emerging as a firm favourite.
“There are a couple of things you need to be clear and absolute on when you play any character on screen and that is knowing his intentions,” said Teale. “In the case of Peter Knox, you know he’s going to be thrust into the centre of the story at various points and will be a huge obstacle to what we want to see happen, which is I guess is to save humanity in all its forms, humans and creatures.
“I just hope that I haven’t let anybody down because we’ve heard all the creativity that has gone into this show and how the story beautifully bridges reality with fiction.”
British film and TV actor Trevor Eve, who plays the 1,000 years old (give or take a century) vampire Gerbert D’Aurillac found his character complicated and a tad lonely. “I did feel very lonely playing Gerbert because he’s got no friends! Nobody really likes Gerbert, and all he does is have a go at other people,” Eve laughed. “Throughout the main story, Gerbert is rarely seen spending time with anyone he shows genuine affection for but I still managed to have fun with the character.”
Gerbert is another character who throws a monkey wrench into the union of Diana and Matthew, with the vampire trying everything in his power to over throw the Clairmonts and rule the vampire clans and eventually, the rest of the creature species.
The end is nigh
As the three-season series concluded with a bang, lead star Palmer said she couldn’t be happier with how her character has transformed over the years. “I am really proud of her. Her evolution as a character when we first meet Diana, when she’s just a shell of who she really is remarkable. She starts out as this person who is incredibly uncomfortable with herself and is running away from who she is authentically. And then as she meets Matthew and this story unfold, she just starts to peel back the layers of who she is and it’s wonderful to see her step into her power.”
Palmer added that seeing Diana Bishop yield her power in the finale and her incredible journey is the perfect ending to her story.
Yet, even Palmer admitted that despite the magic and the mysteries of the universe unfolding in each episode, at the very centre of the story is a simple love story between Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont that hooks in viewers from the beginning.
“If you look at their relationship from both sides, they sort of feel that they’ve been hit by a truck when they initially meet. That connect and that love is so potent that the depth of those feelings are very complex for them to unravel. It’s what typical star-crossed lovers experience when they travel from darkness to light. And I think that’s what fans really love about it – it is so passionate and exciting,” she said, adding that eventually, their coming together is not just about them but for the greater good for mankind.
With the series now coming to a close, fans of the show are obviously setting their sights and hopes on a possible spin-off in the works. Pose the question to MacKinnon and his answer came back in a guarded manner. “First and foremost we were focused on making the trilogy, which is a self-contained series with a very clear kind of beginning, middle and end. But you probably know this is not the end of the writing. There are other stories that will develop other characters and different time frames (Harkness has written an spin-off on Matthew’s son Marcus Clairmont), so you’re going to have to watch this space for more.”
Don’t miss it!
‘A Discovery of Witches’, all seasons, is streaming on OSN+