How did the novel The Luminaries become a Starz TV series? It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. But being difficult isn’t the same as being impossible, and after “seven years, 300 drafts and plenty of crying, here it is.”
by Meredith Blake
“The Luminaries” seemed to have everything Hollywood wants in a book.
A commercial and critical hit when it was published in 2013, Eleanor Catton’s immersive novel was set on the rugged southwest coast of New Zealand during its 1860s gold rush. A tale of fate and fortune on the antipodean frontier, it had all the makings of a great screen adventure: rowdy saloons and smoke-filled opium dens, devious blackmail schemes and treacherous ocean voyages, ruthless villains and star-crossed lovers.
“The Luminaries” also boasted undeniable cachet, winning the 2013 Booker Prize over titles by more established names like Colm Tóibín and Jhumpa Lahiri and making Catton, then 28, the youngest winner in the history of the prestigious award.
But as enticing as it might have been in the abstract, it also presented obvious technical challenges: the book clocked in at a heaving 800 pages, followed a Dickensian assortment of nearly 20 main characters, and used an elaborate narrative format inspired by the signs of the zodiac.
“The joke between us,” says director and executive producer Claire McCarthy, “was that ‘The Luminaries’ was impossible to make.”
On Sunday, a six-episode TV adaptation co-produced by the BBC makes its debut on Starz, and in an unusual if not entirely unheard-of arrangement, Catton wrote the limited series herself….