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Dakota Blue Richards (born 11 April 1994) is an English actress. Her debut was in the film The Golden Compass, as the lead character Lyra Belacqua. She is also cast as the lead of another movie, The Secret of Moonacre, which was released February 2009.


Early life

Dakota Blue Richards was born in South Kensingtonmarker, London, the daughter of Michaela Richards, a social worker. Her father's identity is not public; his name does not appear on her birth certificate and she was raised solely by her mother. She was named Dakota Blue because her mother wanted a combination of a place-name and a colour. Dakota was inspired by the Sioux tribe, with whom her mother had become friendly during a year in America; her mother also liked the fact that it was unusual as a name. Blue was Dakota's father's nickname, and her mother thought it went well with Dakota.

The family moved to Brighton shortly after Richards was born, where she attended St Paul's Primary School. At weekends, she took drama classes and sometimes missed school to go to auditions. She was an active participant in class assemblies and school plays, but missed out on the part of Mary in the nativity play. At 11 she moved onto the nearby K-BIS Theatre School. She had always enjoyed acting, but considered it "just a fun little hobby thing" and "never really thought I'd get into doing it professionally".


The Golden Compass

In June 2006, it was announced that Richards had had been cast in the lead role of Lyra Belacqua in The Golden Compass.

When she was nine years old, Richards had had the His Dark Materials books read to her by her mother. She immediately loved Lyra, feeling that she could "be her". After she saw the stage adaption at the National Theatre, she says she "just wanted to be Lyra". Richards found out about the auditions for the film from a family friend, who saw an item on CBBC's Newsround. She was desperate to go but had to convince her mother. Her mother agreed to take her, but only if it wasn't raining and on the condition that she wouldn't be too upset if she wasn't chosen. Richards attributes her success at the audition to her mother's suggestion of not brushing her hair that day, so that she would look "wild", like Lyra. She was given a callback to the London casting office, along with 60 other girls, followed by a second recall and a screen test.

Philip Pullman, author of the books, said that, "As soon as I saw Dakota's screen test, I realised that the search was over." He also described her as "marvelous" and "a very good actress". Chris Weitz, the director, added that Richards "made what should have been an extremely difficult decision quite easy" and that he "was surprised that any young girl, especially one without training, could light up the screen as she does." Richards received the call from the director to tell her she had got the part after a bad day at school. Trying to put him on speaker phone, her mother accidentally hung up on on him instead and he had to call back to give her the news. Although excited to have the part, Richards hardly believed it was happening until she was called for her costume fittings.

Filming began on September 4, 2006. Because Lyra appears in almost every scene, Richards was required on set for 98 out of the 100 days they spent shooting. She received private tutoring from two individual tutors on set between takes; she commented that it was "harder to engage with the school work" because of the way it was constantly interrupted by filming; though she also noted, "I think I actually improved academically from being privately tutored." At weekends she went home to Brighton and caught up with her friends,. She noted at the time that, on set, "being the only child for long periods can get lonely". Initially she was nervous of her famous co-stars but found them to be "nice".

The movie was released worldwide in December 2007. Richards' portrayal in the film was well-received by critics, although the degree to which critics praised her varied widely. Her performance was variously described as "efficient", "a decent job", "nicely played" and "enchanting"; one review called her "terrific casting", but others noted that her "Artful Dodger-ish 'urchin' accent [...] comes and goes a bit" and that she "struggles with lumpy dialogue". Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert was more effusive, calling Richards "a delightful find" who was "pretty, plucky, forceful, self-possessed, charismatic, and just about plausible as the mistress of an armored bear and the protector of Dust. However, some of the fans of the trilogy have been upset over the casting of Richards for Lyra, because according to the books, Lyra is supposed to be bright blond and blue-eyed, whereas Richards is dark blond and brown-eyed.

Other roles

Before The Golden Compass was released, Richards had already been cast as the lead in another movie, The Secret of Moonacre, her second book-to-film adaption, in which she would play Maria Merryweather from the book 'The little White horse'. Principal photography took place between early October and late November 2007. The film was released February 2009.

In December 2008, Richards played April Johnson in Dustbin Baby, the BBC dramatisation of the Jacqueline Wilson novel of the same name. She said that April was a difficult character to play, as "she is a really different person to me. On the one hand, she does go through normal things that I can relate to, such as fighting with your parents or getting presents you don't like; but on the other, she has had such a hard life."

Richards has also been announced as appearing in a psychological thriller, Lovely to the Last. Richards mentioned to The Times newspaper how proud she was of herself for working very hard to keep herself active within show business.


Year Title Role
2007 The Golden Compass Lyra Belacqua
2008 Dustbin Baby April Johnson
2009 The Secret of Moonacre Maria Merryweather
2009 Five Miles Out Cassey
TBA Lovely to the Last TBA


Year Organisation Award Film Result
2007 Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics' Choice Award The Golden Compass Nominated
London Film Critics Circle Breakthrough Award Nominated
2008 Young Artist Awards Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress Nominated
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Award Nominated


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