The eagerly anticipated TV adaptation of 2011 novel A Discovery of Witches debuted at Comic-Con today. Author Deborah Harkness and stars Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge), Alex Kingston (Doctor Who), and Owen Teale (Game of Thrones) appeared onstage to present footage from the forthcoming series.
The story revolves around Diana Bishop (Palmer), an academic at Oxford University who also happens to be a witch. Bishop stumbles on a long-lost manuscript that inspires her to embrace her magical past, while Matthew Goode plays mysterious vampire Matthew Clairmont, who Bishop falls in love with.
Speaking at the panel, Harkness said that she wanted to tell a tale in which vampires are “the guy next door,” and to find out what they do for a living and how they date. When talk of an adaptation cropped up, she initially wanted to turn the first book into a movie but realised the story wouldn’t fit into a 90-minute time frame. And so TV was the next logical step.
Palmer was cast as Diana and immediately connected with the character. “I read the books and the script and fell in love with her bravery, her passion, and her commitment to her studies,” Palmer explained. “Diana wants to be normal. She doesn’t want to stand out. She wants to concentrate on her studies… She wants to pretend she doesn’t have powers… She has no control over her powers, and she’s bothered by the idea of being a witch. She wants to deny her heritage.”
The moment that Diana and Matthew meet in a library then screened, and it’s a scene that’s filled with sexual tension. “It is forbidden love,” revealed Palmer. “It’s a story of star-crossed lovers. It’s other-worldly; their love is so intense. There aren’t words to describe that passionate kind of connection… It completely goes against everything she’s been taught, but she can’t help herself… There’s just this beautiful connection between the two of them. And very dangerous.”
Of the 1,500-year-old Clairmont, Harkness said, “Matthew is meant to be incredibly aggravating. He’s also got a soft heart of hold. He’s just this wonderful ball of contradictions. I wanted to humanise monsters. We make people into monsters that we don’t take the time to understand.”
Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford play Diana’s aunts Sarah and Emily, who also happen to be a couple. And it sounds like the show deals with their relationship in a simple and progressive way. “In the world of the creatures, sexuality is not a problem at all,” Kingston explained. “The racism is between the different species. There’s no questioning of Sarah and Em’s love. The questioning is between a witch and a vampire. That is the thing that’s absolutely forbidden.”
A Discovery of Witches is the first installment in the “All Souls” trilogy, with Shadow of Night continuing the story and The Book of Life concluding it. Harkness hopes those tomes will be adapted as a second and third season, while the author added, “Being different can save the world, and that’s what the show is about.”
A Discovery of Witches debuts on Sky One in the UK on September 14, while it will screen on the Sundance Channel in the States.