Great adaptations  

Lesley Finlay, along with ink Pellet readers, explores the sometimes controversial world of film adaptations…

FILM adaptations pop up every now and then – always producing great debate among the literati about how true or not the director, screenplay writer and producer have remained to the original.

Many love the gay abandon a director uses to tell the story but for others, this can mean an instant turn-off. the celebrated Danny Boyle 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire was a massive critical hit but bore no resemblance to the original 2005 novel called Q&A by Vikas Swarap. while the film brought to life the cruelty and harshness of life in the Mumbai slums (in bucketloads) the storyline (in particular the hero Jamal’s lifelong love for latika) was defi nitely ripped out of the hollywood book of how to tug the heartstrings.

Teacher and regular Ink Pellet contributor edna hobbs told us: ‘the best adaptations are actually for television, rather than cinema, because they have more time and are generally more intelligently done – the adaptations of dickens, hardy, Jane austen, even agatha christie, have been superb. Just compare the fi lm of Pride & Prejudice with the bbc adaptation, starring colin firth, and you’ll see what i mean.’ We asked a selection of readers about their best and worst film adaptations, and here are the verdicts:

Tom Felton – Actor
tom plays draco Malfoy in the harry Potter series. he says: ‘there are so many books, it’s a hard one to pick from. i’m reading a fantastic book at the moment called, The Boy Who Dared, by Susan campbell bartoletti, it’s an amazing book, and i think it would make such a fantastic film.
and, yes, if they ever did manage to get it off the ground it would be a great one to act in!’ Tom was responding to a question posed in FilmClub’s fi rst webcast by 13-year-old Graham from Vauxhall Community Technology College.

Keith Gaines – Ink Pellet Columnist
The worst fi lm adaptation of a book? no contest – it’s The Scarlet Letter (1995 directed by Roland Joffé). despite the support of great actors (Gary Oldman, robert duvall, roy dotrice), demi Moore fails dismally to portray tragic Hester Prynne, with or without her clothes on. unlike the book, the film has a happy ending! if you’re teaching or reading hawthorne’s great book for a level, don’t even think of renting the DVD.

The best adaptation – a bit obscure, perhaps, is The Birth of a Nation (1915, directed by D. W. Griffith). it’s the most extreme example of a masterpiece of film based on a dreadful book. The Clansman, by thomas dixon, a lament for the Old South of plantations, crinolines, summary lynchings and slavery. Out of this trash, Griffi th created a moving story of sympathetic families against a breathtaking panorama of the US civil war. a silent film, but with its own composed musical accompaniment – see it in a cinema if you can, and take a box of tissues.

Edna Hobbs – Teacher
I was so disappointed with Inkheart. I had waited so long to see it as the trilogy is wonderful, but, presumably to appeal to americans, The Wizard of Oz was thrust into the storyline. Outrageous! My pet hates are when the story is changed to make it appeal to a supposed target audience – have faith in the story or don’t fi lm it and when the story is rushed, so that vital threads and sub-plots are missing. the harry Potter films are disappointing despite having some great moments, because they are ‘highlights of’ rather than the real story. Lord of the Rings is the exception: i found much of the description in the book tedious, whereas the film brought that to life vividly. three films gave the story breathing space and the characters were appealingly realised.

Beth Tattershall – Teacher
Joe wright’s 2007 film version of ian Mcewan’s Atonement is testament to the fact that one medium isn’t superior to the other and that film can beautifully refl ect the inner life of literary characters. the narrative is driven by a child misreading a sexual encounter between her sister and lover. wright allows the viewer to see with her eyes and to therefore fully empathise with her subsequent guilt.

Mark Glover – Ink Pellet
I had to study Graham Swift’s novel as part of my contemporary british fiction module at university. having always been a fan of Swift it was hardly a chore to read one of his greatest works but the fi lm adaptation of Waterland is one of the few examples of the big screen doing justice to a novel. Set amongst the norfolk broads, Stephen Gyllenhaal’s direction perfectly conveys the fl at, barreon, landscape that Swift was so keen to use as a metaphor throughout the book. it’s a story with a disturbing twist, which i shan’t give away as i can’t recommend the book enough, however, just this once, why not go and see the film!

Simon Finlay – Writer
A Kestrel for a Knave, better known as kes, is the book by barry hines. The 1969 film prospers in adhering to the unremitting grimness of the book’s narrative and stays true to its characters, redrawn for the screen but graphically, honestly coloured in and perfectly cast. david bradley, the boy billy casper who finds temporary retreat from his northern, dysfunctional coal-mining roots in the company of a kestrel, is a case in point.

Chris Shepherd – Teacher
I can’t believe i’m saying this – but i believe emma thompson improved on Jane austen in the fi lm version of Sense and Sensibility. there was real romance and beauty in the version, in spite of the casting of emma’s now husband Greg wise, as the quasi-villain. and the masterstroke?

The wonderful alan rickman as the colonel – in the book, a stiff, elderly 30-something with no appeal, romantic or otherwise. in this version – we were all swooning for him. the script-writer’s ‘sensibilities’ made this a film of which i can see Jane herself nodding her approval.

Sue Wilcox – Teacher
I adore du Maurier’s Rebecca but nothing prepared me for the Gothic beauty of hitchcock’s film version. Who wouldn’t want to promise laurence Olivier, at his most charismatic, that they’d never wear ‘black satin or pearls or be 36…’?

FILMCLUB’s choice

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (12) (1931) this adaptation of robert louis Stevenson’s famous chiller was an early lesson in how to adapt the written word for the big screen – with the results being every bit as haunting as the novel.

Vertigo (PG) (1958) even a cinematic icon like Alfred Hitchcock often used books as his source material – as with this hugely influential thriller, which started out as a novel by the french writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (PG) (1975) nothing stays in the mind like a mystery, and this story of a group of Victorian schoolgirls taking a trip into the Australian outback, adapted from a novel by author Joan Lindsay, is one of the most unforgettable in film history.

Adaptation (15) (2002) Partly a big-screen version of a book by journalist Susan Orlean about a poacher of rare orchids, this dizzyingly witty movie is also about a hapless screenwriter trying to adapt that same book into a movie – and as such about the whole business of turning books into films.

Let The Right One In (15) (2008) author Stephenie Meyer’s twilight series has given rise to a phenomenally popular movie franchise – and this acclaimed Swedish tale of a lonely teenage boy who befriends what turns out to be a vampire also began life as a book by writer John ajvide lindqvist. Do you have a best or worst film adaptation to add to this little collection? Please send in your views to