Oxford author Philip Pullman has said he is delighted that Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman will star in the film adaptation of his novel Northern Lights.

Ms Kidman, 39, star of films including The Stepford Wives and Moulin Rouge, was Mr Pullman's first choice to play sinister socialite Mrs Coulter in The Golden Compass, New Line Cinema's adaptation of the award-winning first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy.

The actress confirmed she would accept the role, following weeks of negotiations. Speaking to the Oxford Mail yesterday, Mr Pullman, who lives in Cumnor, said: "I always hoped she would play Mrs Coulter because of all the wonderful qualities she has as an actress."

Mr Pullman said he was also very happy with the other actors cast. Lovejoy and Deadwood actor Ian McShane will provide the voice of talking bear Lorek Byrninson, while previously unknown 12-year-old schoolgirl Dakota Blue Richards was chosen from thousands of hopefuls to play Lyra, the rebellious heroine of the trilogy.

Open auditions for the lead role stirred up a storm when they were held in Oxford in March, and attracted more than 3,000 local girls.

Would-be Lyras were told they needed no previous acting experience, as the production company were looking for a down-to-earth girl aged between nine and 13.

Mr Pullman stayed away, as he feared his presence would be intimidating. Auditions were also held in the Lake District and in Cambridge, where Dakota Blue Richards was discovered.

The Golden Compass follows Lyra, who lives in Jordan College, Oxford, as she uncovers a plot against her uncle, Lord Asriel, centring on a mysterious substance called Dust. Soon she is in over her head as she discovers a whole new world of possibilities, at the centre of which is the glamorous Mrs Coulter.

Mr Pullman's final instalment of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, was the first children's book to win the Whitbread Prize. He has pledged to write a fourth book with the same characters. Filming of The Golden Compass is set to start in the autumn under the direction of Chris Weitz, with the city of Oxford itself likely to be a 'star' of the film. Special effects work is believed to have started already.

The Golden Compass is set for release in November 2007.

Other big names rumoured to be in the film include Paul Bettany, star of comedy Wimbledon, and Kingdom of Heaven star Eva Green.