I’m not much of a film buff, I haven’t watched everything on any ‘100 films to see before you die’ list, and I certainly don’t think anyone would describe my film choices as particularly cool, whatever that means. But, I do enjoy watching a good film from time to time, and I always look out for adaptations of books I’ve read, or books I’d like to read. There are always discussions about adaptations, and I find it interesting that they always divide opinion.
A perfect example of this is the reception of Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby which came out last summer (I loved it, but then I hadn’t seen the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the inimitable Jay Gatsby).
I think there are often two main areas of discussion around a book adaptation:
1) How faithful it is to the book
2) How it compares to previous adaptations
On number 1, film directors always seem tempted to play with book adaptations, some striving to be as faithful as possible, or others being more adventurous with the format, such as Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (which will always be my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare’s play), or 2012’s version of Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (which I also thought was brilliant).
Another example for point 2 would be Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you’ve seen the original adaptation, known as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, filmed in 1971 and starring Gene Wilder), then it may have been quite hard to warm to the more recent 2005 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. It’s all a matter of which one you’ve seen first in some cases, as that’s the one you’ll come to associate most with the book. I’ve been thinking about book adaptations and wondering what my favourites have been, so I decided to come up with a list of my top 10 book adaptations on screen (in no particular order).
Pride and Prejudice
I loved both the BBC TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, as I particularly loved the actor chosen for Mr. Bingley. I only read Pride and Prejudice last year but I felt that I already knew the story inside out – it’s such a well-known story that it could probably be adapted into many different styles, in fact, the Bollywood version Bride and Prejudice was also good fun.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
This trilogy will always remind me of those long student winter breaks, and watching the extended versions of the films over the course of a few days with my brother who is a big fan of both the films and the books. I haven’t read the trilogy (I think I’ve read just 100 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring), but the world that J.R.R Tolkien created is brought to life on screen by Peter Jackson and the detail in each of them is astonishing. I miss being able to see them on the big screen at the cinema. There may also be some truth in the allegation that my love of men with beards comes from watching these films. Ahem.
Harry Potter series
I loved the books, as most book lovers of my generation do. Yes, the first few films have some cringe-worthy acting in them, but I love them all the more for it. It’s so nice to see the characters (and the actors who play them) grow up on screen. Perfect films to watch on a rainy afternoon!
The version I love is probably not the same as others have seen (I’ve heard many people love the film version starring Omar Sharif). For me it’s a TV adaptation – I think it was an ITV adaptation (starring Keira Knightley in her younger years) that came free with a newspaper many moons ago. I love the story, and it will forever remind me of winter in my old flat as I watched it whilst wrapping Christmas presents and making cards with my Christmas tree twinkling beside me. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my list – it’s such a beautiful story and the setting is wonderful which is why I think I fell in love with it. I’d be interested to watch the Omar Sharif film and see how it compares.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
I caught the last hour of this film on TV recently ago and it reminded me of just how much I love it, particularly Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the ‘genuine phoney’ Holly Golightly. I did enjoy Truman Capote’s novella, but in this case I think the film is far superior. A classic!
I thought the books in this trilogy were brilliant, I read them furiously, spending about a day over each of them. I remember finding it really hard to write book reviews for them as I couldn’t find a way to express how much I’d enjoyed them and was just finding my feet with blogging at that stage. I think Jennifer Lawrence is pretty great as well and look forward to anything she’s in. I have recently rewatched the first film as I hadn’t loved it the first time round – I felt it had been dumbed down (or made less harrowing) to appeal to a wider audience (aka making it a 12A so that kids would be able to see it and they could make more money at the box office). It’s much better on the second viewing, and the second film Catching Fire was far superior, although it seemed loads of details were missed out to get it within a reasonable time. I’m looking forward to seeing the final instalments which have been split into two parts, á la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series. Bright Young Things
This is based on Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novel Vile Bodies – the film by Stephen Fry sticks pretty faithfully for it and it’s such a hilarious story. A glimpse of the young and pretty people in 1930s England, it’s as glamorous as the book is and really captures the whole feel of it. An example of an adaptation that sticks quite closely to the original story and works really, really well.
Romeo and Juliet
Do you remember the first time you studied a play by William Shakespeare in school? This was mine, and I remember watching this adaptation after studying it and appreciating for the first time how the play could come to life on screen and wasn’t solely fit for the stage. It’s a daring adaptation this, a modernised version, but it really works. It has the glamour and bright lights of all the best Baz Luhrman films – it’s magical, and is all the more heartbreaking for it.
It doesn’t make for easy watching but it certainly packs a punch. It’s a powerful portrayal of the drug culture featured in Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title and has brilliant performances from Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlisle – it’s one of those films that once you’ve seen it, you certainly won’t forget it. It’s an iconic film that really captures the ’90s so well.
A Tale of Two Cities (1935 adaptation)
I remember using this book for teaching when I was working in Spain and fell in love with a black and white film adaptation which I think is probably the 1935 version. The entire film used to be available on youtube but I can only find the trailer now. If you can track it down it’s well worth a watch!
I’m hoping to watch the adaptation of Diane Setterfield’s gothic thriller The Thirteenth Tale at some point this week as I have it saved on the iPlayer. I loved the book and I’m hoping the film will live up to it! What are your favourite adaptations? And which book adaptations are you looking forward to this year?
Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:
Gone Girl (UK release on 03/10/14)
Mockingjay: Part 1
(UK release on 21/11/14)