3 Book Adaptations that Actually Rock

I’m sure I’m not the only reader who has felt betrayed by a bad movie or TV adaptation of a favorite book (The SyFy Earthsea miniseries comes to mind). However, there are many adaptations of books that actually do a stand-up job. For me, there are three that come to mind immediately. They work for me because they feel loyal to the spirit of the books they seek to portray, even if they take a few liberties with the text.

Sense and Sensibility (1995), Ang Lee, Columbia Pictures

Elinor. Sense and Sensibility (1995), Columbia Pictures

Elinor. Sense and Sensibility (1995), Columbia Pictures

This adaptation is a winner because of the strong focus on the relationship between sisters Marianne and Elinor (played by Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson, respectively). The love these two have for each other, even in the midst of fairly dire circumstances for their time period, is really moving. One scene in particular, where Marianne lies in an unconscious stupor on her sick-bed and Elinor begs her to live, is particularly moving. It’s not in the book, but I think it’s a natural fit for the story’s tone and these two characters. That’s not to say the adaptation is perfect. Hugh Grant does a pretty poor job as Edward Ferrars. Also, there are a few notable changes from the text (as mentioned above). But, as I said, the filmmakers (particularly Ang Lee and Emma Thompson) seemed to understand the spirit of the text.

Jane Eyre (2006), Susanna White, BBC One

Jane Eyre

Jane, Jane Eyre (2006), BBC One

An adaptation of Jane Eyre has been made at least every decade for the last fifty years. For the most part, I feel most of these adaptations fall short of the story’s complex themes and characters. In truth, it’s not an easy story to adapt for a wide audience: A teenage girl goes to live in the house of a dark broody man, falls in love with said man, and drama ensues. However, for me, the BBC One mini series does a really good job of embracing this complex story. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that this relationship, at least at the story’s start, is problematic. And it does a very good job of conveying the passion and sensuality of this Victorian romance that today’s audience might miss. Overall, when I want to watch one of my favorite stories, I turn to this adaptation.

North and South (2004), Brian Percival, BBC One

North and South_Capture

Margaret, North and South (2004), BBC One

An immense saga of a story, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is a Victorian novel most students tend to miss. It’s far too long to be covered well in most undergraduate courses, let alone high school. However, it’s a truly lovely book filled with complex, fleshed-out characters and themes. It’s also a great picture of England during the Industrial Revolution. With a book such as this, it would seem hard to create a satisfying adaptation. However, the 2004 BBC One miniseries did a great job. Yes, like the book, it’s long. But the extra time is needed to give credit to this lush story of a woman attaining her adulthood. Also, it superbly casted; Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage steam up the screen with fantastic chemistry. If you watch one of the adaptations I mention in this post, watch this one.

No doubt you’ve noticed that all of the adaptations on this list are period dramas. Well, I happen to think the makers of period dramas do a superior job in the adaptations category. However, I might come back to this topic and do a second post, possibly focusing on another genre.

So, what do you guys think? Do you have any favored adaptations? Or do you shy away from them altogether?

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4 Comments

Filed under British Literature, Literature

4 responses to “3 Book Adaptations that Actually Rock

  1. David Garrison

    Adaptations are always very hit or miss. I’ve always had a hard time pinning down just what all is needed for a good adaptation. It’s easy to call out things that make them fail (like not sticking to major plot events), but sometimes those same things can be okay in other adaptations so I find it hard to call out what makes the good ones tick.

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  2. Margaret Garrison

    I LOVE “Much Ado About Nothing” with Kenneth and Emma, and the six part “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth was wonderful!

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  3. “The Quiet American” with Brendan Fraser and Michael Caine didn’t suck. It was surprisingly good, actually.

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  4. Ann B.

    Oo, I have a theory on why period dramas often make the best adaptations! I think adaptations in general work best when the filmmakers focus on Characters and Relationships. What most people want, when their beloved book is adapted for screen, is for their most cherished characters to be depicted faithfully, for the essence of that character to be effectively transferred to a different medium. A few niggling plot details winnowed or tweaked doesn’t matter as much. Where filmmakers get lost, I think, is when they believe audiences want to see Cool Exciting Shit Happening In A Big Way and pay less attention to characters. So, period dramas tend to work well because those tend to be SUPER DUPER character-based to start with.

    I love the Master and Commander film adaptation (SO. MUCH.). As in the books, the plot is mostly an afterthought, and although they changed some details of Stephen Maturin’s character, everything else is perfect and the Aubrey/Maturin friendship remains the heart of the film.

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