The first episode of The Luminaries, the BBC’s newest literary adaptation, aired on Sunday evening in the U.K. was watched by an audience of 5.3 million, according to the BBC. It is their second highest launch for a BBC drama so far this year.
Adapted by the author of the Booker Prize-winning, over 800-pages-long, novel, Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries is set during the gold rush in the 1860s on the South Island of New Zealand. The story follows Anne Wetherell (played by Eve Hewson) freshly arrived in New Zealand. She meets a young man on the boat, Emery Staines (played by Himesh Patel) and they plan to see each other again once on land. He writes the name of his hotel on a piece of paper, and tells her to meet him there in the evening.
Anne never makes it as she goes to the wrong hotel, after encountering fortune-teller Lydia Wells (Eva Green) who tells her the wrong address as Anne cannot read. It turns out that Mrs Wells does not want Anne and Emery to meet. Anne and Emery have the same birthdays, born at the same instant, and are thus astral twins as Mrs Wells explains. Why Mrs Wells is intent on keeping Anne and Emery apart remains a mystery that the series isn’t in too much hurry to reveal.
The storyline of the series is not so straightforward as two timelines are actually intertwined, for a reason that is not clear. The second storyline, which in fact opens the series, is set nine months later. Two men on horseback, one named Alastair Lauderback (Benedict Hardie), arrive at a cottage to find both Anne and a Māori man unconscious outside the cottage. Inside lays the body of another man. Lauderback takes Anne back to town where she is arrested and put into jail. Anne seems to have been intoxicated and does not remember what happened or who killed the mysterious man.
The series jumps from one timeline of the story to the next. Judging from some of the comments on social media, much of the show’s audience felt confused after watching the first episode. Numerous viewers have gone on Twitter asking if anybody else can tell what is going on in the first episode. The two storylines make the story confusing more than anything else, as it becomes a struggle to understand what exactly is going on, and where the story is going.
Furthermore, audiences also complained about how dark the image is in the first episode. The opening images are in fact so dark that it is difficult to decipher what is happening. For a story that is called “Luminaries” it seems a little ironic that the image would be so dark. Unfortunately, the overtly dark images continue throughout, leaving some scenes, crucial to the narrative, barely visible.
After the first few episodes, I cannot say that I was particularly enthralled by this series. The images of New Zealand are beautiful, and the cast is incredible. Eve Hewson’s performance as Anne Wetherell is wonderful, as is Eva Green as the mysterious and mischievous Mrs Wells. There is, though, a strange pace to this story, due mainly to the intertwining storylines that only accentuates its slowness.
As the story unfolds, however, the portrayal of a woman’s harsh miserable life on a new land reveals itself. The strange magical link that bonds Anne to Emery becomes increasingly intriguing as there is a gleaming hope that this may be her salvation out of the misery she has found herself in.
According to Eleanor Catton, she took five years to write her novel, and another seven to adapt it for the small screen. The six-part series was directed by Claire McCarthy. This is a series that takes time to get into, but once you do, it turns into a compelling story, if somewhat confusing.