Here’s Marie Claire’s pick of the best page-to-screen adaptations…and some that are worth remembering for, er, other reasons…
Okay this is the thing. Sometimes you want to read a book, sometimes you want to watch a movie. But sometimes you sort of want both.
That’s where adaptations come in – movies or TV dramas of books we know and love are always hugely popular, partly because despite the thrill of the new what many of us really want is to snuggle down and watch something we already know we’re going to enjoy. (It’s the same logic we use when ordering in our favourite restaurant – you mean to try something new but you know if you do you might be disappointed, so you go with the one dish you’ve loved for ages, knowing it will deliver.) Psychologists even have a phrase for it (anticipatory pleasure).
Which is great – as long as the film or TV adaptation delivers. But when it doesn’t – oh my. Then all hell can break loose. Because what kind of massacre is this on the screen for god’s sake? Changed endings, miscast actors (One Day/ Anne Hathaway/ Yorkshire accent – can’t go there, too painful), it’s a minefield out there.
And then there’s the tone or spirit of the book. Does the screen adaptation capture it? Like the Golden Compass, based on Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights, the first in a trilogy that’s steeped in religious references. The film was just one action sequence after another, even Nicole Kidman’s golden-haired monkey (aka her daemon/ soul) that sat on her shoulder throughout looked like he didn’t have a clue what he was doing in this film.
But occasionally directors, screenwriters and actors get it right. And then a sort of magic happens in which the book you read and imagined comes to life. Happy days.
Here’s Marie Claire’s pick of the best page-to-screen adaptations, and some that are worth remembering for, er, other reasons?
Words by Eleni Kyriacou
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller and Jasper Newell
Verdict: the book is a series of letters from Eva to her son, Kevin, in prison. It's powerful and worth reading, but the film takes it to another dimension entirely. Visually, it's stunning (fairly monchrome with the occasional flash of violent red), but the real surprise is just how amazing the Kevins are (Ezra plays the teen, Jasper, the 6-8 year old). Wonderful, disturbing and powerful, this is a great example of how a book can come to life on the screen and become different enough to be interesting. Highly recommended.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald
Verdict: Watching Danny Boyle's black comedy crime drama feels like having a whisk turned on in your brain and jiggled around while loud music is blaring. In a good way. It follows the story of Rent Boy, Spud, Sick Boy et al, a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh during the late 80s. Funny and chilling, with an amazing soundtrack thanks to Blur, Sleeper, Iggy Pop (who can forget Rent Boy running down the street to Lust For Life at the start?). Dare we say it's more accessible/ better than the book, which is a series of stories written in dialect. Well, yes, we would dare to say that, if Irvine Welsh wasn't quite so scary.
Starring: Holliday Grainger,Richard Madden and James Norton
Verdict: The BBC's recent adaptation had everyone up in arms. No, not because our Sunday evening was littered with lusty shenanigans between Mellors the gamekeeper and Lady Constance. But because it wasn't. Viewers took to Twitter to complain about the distinct lack of sex. Perhaps the BBC couldn't compete with the raunch of the classic starring Sean Bean and Joely Richardson so decided not to try.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emily Watson, Rupert Grint, Maggie Smith and everyone who?s British and ever been on TV or in films
Verdict: Well, amazing, obv. When JK Rowling created Hogwart's and Diagon Alley, chances are she never thought a film would be able to capture the magic (sorry). But the films are incredible both in their casting (award please for the person responsible ? how did they know those three would be able to carry all those films?) and their art direction. Everyone dreaded the films botching it up, not least Rowling herself (hence the clever control she held over them) but in fact they added to them. Try thinking about the books without thinking of the films or vice versa. See?
Starring: Julie Christie, Omar Sharif
Verdict: banned in the Soviet Union, the film was originally thought to trivialise history and wasn't rated by critics; since then it's become popular and is now the eighth highest grossing film of all time. There's lots of snow, wonderful music and a forbidden love between Yuri (Sharif, who wears a grey Army great coat ever so well) and Lara (the luminescent Julie Christie rocking a furry hat and polo neck). It's three hours long, spans a few wars and all sort of merges into one after an hour or so. Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing with the duvet, especially if you're feeling a bit under the weather.
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy and Stacey Dash.
Verdict: This 1995 comedy is admittedly loosely based on Austen's famous coming-of-age book, but sooo worth watching. It's a fast-moving story that centres around Cher Horowitz and her attempts at matchmaking. Like Emma, Cher learns some lessons on the way - not least that she doesn't really appreciate those around her and that her ex step-brother, Josh (Paul Rudd) is hot. Funny and uplifting.
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant
Verdict: look, we're sorry to keep going on about Austen but the fact is her books make the best page-to-screen adaptations. Both films chart Bridget's trials as a single, then hitched, then single again thirty-something woman about town. Firth plays Mark Darcy, based on the Austen character, who he also played in the BBC's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (yes, our head's about to burst too). All very knowing and self-referential and we love it for that.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah
Verdict: The film is just a tiny part of the original book. If you haven't seen this then you need to have a word with yourself. Then you need to watch it immediately. Yes, even if you don't like sci-fi, or Harrison Ford, or weird futuristicky stuff usually. Hard to sum up, the internet describes it as a 'neo-noir dystopian sci-fi film' but, actually, it's an amazing love story of the best kind - doomed. We like.
Starring: Leonard DiCaprio and Claire Danes
Baz Lurhmann's modern take on the famous feuding Montagues and Capulets is inspired. The two families are warring mafia empires, with guns instead of swords. The soundtrack is sumptuous and, visually, it's stunning. The lovers set eyes on each other while admiring an aquarium and instantly fall in love. They sneak a kiss in the elevator. It's all so romantic every time we watch it we still hope it won't end badly. Even when we know, we still hope.
Starring: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Verdict: an inspired reworking, this is the tale of high school student, Cameron, who has to find someone to date indie-loving feminist Kat, in order to be allowed to date her sister Bianca (keep up, keep up). We loved this film and if you haven't seen it, you will too. Worth it just to see Heath Ledger as badboy Patrick ('they say he ate a live duck once'). Sigh.
Starring: David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson and Ken Stott
Verdict: as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. Inspector Goole arrives at the home of smug industrialists, the Birlings, with news that a young woman called Eva Smith has just taken her life. Little by little he draws them out and the family realises how their selfish actions have all had a part to play in her demise. As their comfy lives unravel before their eyes, Goole gives them a lesson in social responsibility and humanity. This BBC adaptation managed to keep the spirit of the original while making it feel contemporary. If you don't know the story there is a delicious twist at the end that will make you go, 'WHAT?' Thewlis is staggeringly good as the Inspector.
Starring: Jack Hollington, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Vanderham, Vanessa Redgrave and Ben Batt
Verdict: When 12-year-old Leo visits a rich school friend one summer, hes at a loose end when that friend becomes ill. But not for long. His friends beautiful older sister, Marian, decides to use him as a messenger between herself and her farmer lover. Scriptwriter Adrian Hodges perfectly captures the innocence of a sweltering 1900s Norfolk, in this tale of trust, childhood, love and deceit. A well-received adaptation, that whipped up a mini-Twitter/tabloid storm thanks to some bare-chested scything and a bit of skinny-dipping, courtesy of Ben Batt, who plays farmer Ted Burgess. Lets just say we can see why Marian is so taken with him.
Starring: Timothy Spall, Samantha Morton, Georgie Smith, Archie Cox and Ruby Ashbourne Serkis
Verdict: the thing is, this is a bit of a rambling book, what with it being based on Lees memoir of his childhood in a Gloucestershire at the end of the First War. Which makes for a bit of a rambling adaptation. Young and teen Laurie (expertly played by non-actor local kids, Smith and Cox) are excellent. The film is at its most entertaining when it shows the relationship between teen Laurie (Cox) and Rosie (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), which eventually leads to Rubys sexual favours in return for wine gums and (finally!) Laurie losing his virginity under a pile of hay. Pleasant enough if you dont mind a story that wanders around a bit.