It may be set over 150 years ago, but The Luminaries will still resonate with audiences today, say its cast. Gemma Dunn finds out more.

It took Eleanor Catton five years to write The Luminaries, and another seven to adapt the novel for the screen.

Set in 19th century New Zealand, the 832-page hit tells the story of a prospector who travels to the West Coast settlement of Hokitika to try to make his fortune on nearby goldfields.

And billed as 'an intricately woven, suspenseful tale of love, murder, magic, and revenge', the epic adventure mystery - Catton's second text to date - certainly has the trappings of a primetime BBC drama.

Even if it has been a long time coming.

"As a novelist I tend to write only one draft, constantly circling back to the beginning, and refining as I go," begins the New Zealander, who in 2013, thanks to The Luminaries, became the youngest ever author to win the coveted Man Booker prize.

"Once I reach the end, the book is done - [whereas] screenwriting couldn't be more different!" compares the now-34-year-old.

"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."

As for being true to form: "People often asked me on set, 'Is it like what you imagined, when you wrote the book?'" recalls Catton, who filmed on location in New Zealand. "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."

Intriguing. So just what do we need to know before we delve in?


Set at the height of the 1860s Gold Rush, the six-part drama follows defiant young adventurer Anna Wetherell, who has sailed from Britain to New Zealand to begin a new life.

It's there she meets the radiant Emery Staines, an encounter that triggers a strange kind of magic that neither can explain - but which likely has something to do with scheming fortune-teller Lydia Wells.

As the duo fall in love, driven together and apart by fateful coincidence, these star-crossed lovers begin to wonder: do we make our fortunes, or do our fortunes make us?


While Casino Royale's Eva Green stars as American fortune parlour manager Wells; Robin Hood's Eve Hewson and former EastEnders' star Himesh Patel take on the parts of the hopeful British arrivals in Wetherell and Staines.

"Anna Wetherell is a mysterious character," muses Hewson, 28. "You don't really know anything about her, and you never really find out her history or why she chose to travel to New Zealand or what she's possibly running from. She meets Emery, gets off the ship and then all hell breaks loose!"

"And by the time [Emery] gets to New Zealand he's somewhat of an adventurer!" Patel, 29, states.

"As the story goes on [his] optimism and radiance is challenged, but he has a purpose which carries him through and takes him on some really interesting journeys.

"Claire McCarthy, our director, described him to me as having a poet's soul, which is something I've taken and carried with me."

Meanwhile "Lydia is fun to play because she's always game; she's a gambler, she's adventurous but she's also a survivor," states Parisian actor Green, 39, who spent a month perfecting her American accent before shooting began.

"Like many survivors, there are no rules - she feels she's above the law. She can have whatever she desires no matter the cost, so she's quite naughty and she's completely blinded by greed. She is a baddie."

The trio is joined by an ensemble of talent, including Ewen Leslie as Crosbie Wells; Marton Csokas as Wells' co-conspirator Francis Carver; Erik Thomson; Benedict Hardie; Yoson An; and newcomer, Richard Te Are.


Corsets, crinoline, elaborate sets:The Luminaries serves its genre well - but it's far from your run-of-the-mill period drama, say its cast.

"It is a period drama but with more magic and adventure than you'd expect," Hewson reasons. "It has a touch of Game of Thrones or something in it as it's more heightened than a regular period drama.

"The amazing thing about books is that they can stretch your imagination and bend genres," she adds. "Eleanor clearly has this vast imagination and didn't hold back in terms of how she wanted to tell the story."

"I think we've honoured that with the series. I wouldn't know how to describe it and put it into a package because it lives on its own and that's why people will like it. It's not what you're used to seeing; it's got this extra touch of magic."

"We've never seen a period drama about the gold rush in New Zealand but I think people just want to be swept away by the story; it's the story that really matters," says Green.

"They want to have love in the story and have an adventure. I think if it's a period or not it has to speak to us - it has to be human."


On that note, just what do they hope audiences will take from it?

"I hope that they enjoy it. I hope that they fall in love with the characters, get invested in the story and they want to take the journey with us and that they keep watching," Hewson goes first.

"I'm confident they will because the writing is so brilliant, and it looks really beautiful. I'm really proud of it."

"I truly hope that the audience will be swept away by this epic adventure and that they're going to feel as if they are living in the 1860's," Green mirrors. "They're going to identify with those characters and live this wild adventure."

As for the prominent themes: "These are themes that we've been telling stories about for millennia, but especially now, in today's political climate," concludes Patel.

"Stories of greed and moral tales of greed maybe will ring true, perhaps more true than they would any other time because it is a story of capitalism gone wrong in some way!"

The Luminaries starts on BBC One on Sunday, June 21.