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‘Dune: The Sisterhood’ taps Emily Watson & Shirley Henderson to lead HBO Max Bene Gesserit series

With ‘Dune’ director Denis Villeneuve on board, the prequel dives into the origins of the mysterious Bene Gesserit.

By Benjamin Bullard
Emily Watson & Shirley Henderson

Three years might barely register in the eon-spanning calendar that paces the epic Dune story-verse, but in Earthly entertainment terms, it’s kind of a long while. After an extended, desert-quiet dearth of development news on the upcoming HBO Max spinoff series Dune: The Sisterhood, the streamer has reportedly turned its spice-blue eyes toward the show’s first official cast members.

Deadline reports that Dune: The Sisterhood has tapped Emily Watson (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Chernobyl) and Shirley Henderson (Frozen, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) to lead the cast of the prequel series, which was first announced in 2019 — before HBO Max had launched (or even been given an official name). Dune: The Sisterhood is set thousands of years before the events of director Denis Villeneuve’s film trilogy, which adapts the House Atreides storyline from the classic Frank Herbert sci-fi novel.

Henderson and Watson will reportedly star as Tula and Valya Harkonnen, respectively, the series’ titular sisters who hold places of prominence in the mysterious all-female organization — eventually known as the Bene Gesserit — that guides history’s weave from the well-shrouded shadows.

RELATED: Dune going beyond big screen, coming to television with 'Dune: The Sisterhood'

If you’ve seen Timothee Chalamet in Villeneuve’s 2021 film, the Bene Gesserit steals one of Dune’s most dramatic scenes: Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) watches sternly as Paul Atreides (Chalamet) endures an excruciating Bene Gesserit trial; one requiring him to place his hand inside a mystical green “pain box” without flinching or retreating…all while his mother sobs in anguish just out of reach (and while the Reverend Mother holds a lethal needle to his neck).

That one scene sets the tone for the kind of austere, unflinching commitment the shady Sisterhood brings to its Illuminati-like mission of choosing a constellation of favored leaders to hold the guiding reins of history. Coming from HBO Max and Legendary Television (the small-screen production arm of the Legendary banner behind the Dune movie trilogy), Dune: The Sisterhood will no doubt dive deeper into the darkest recesses of Bene Gesserit lore that the film franchise, at least so far, has only had the screen space to hint at.

Villeneuve is an executive producer on the upcoming series, and when it was first announced, he confided to The Hollywood Reporter his ongoing captivation with the Sisterhood's quasi-magical influence. “The Bene Gesserit have always been fascinating to me,” he explained. “Focusing a series around that powerful order of women seemed not only relevant and inspiring but a dynamic setting for the television series.”

Creator Diane Ademu-John (Medium, The Haunting of Bly Manor) will serve as co-executive producer and co-showrunner alongside Alison Schapker (Lost, Fringe, The Flash, and Altered Carbon) on Dune: The Sisterhood, which so far hasn’t been given a premiere date. While we wait for more small-screen HBO Max updates, the Dune movie trilogy awaits. Dune: Part Two is set to sweep into theaters on Nov. 17 of 2023.

Looking for more sci-fi content? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock.