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The joy of a film adaptation of a well-loved book

Today I went to the movies and watched Mothering Sunday, and it was fabulous.

After having read Graham Swift’s novella a year ago, it was such a joy to see how someone else has brought to life a book that I had made a place for in my mind.

Do their characters look the way that I pictured them? What about the setting? And has the mood been recreated faithfully?

I have to admit that I was initially a bit surprised by the casting of one of the leads, Paul Sheringham, played by Josh O’Connor. I initially thought he was a little too awkward to play the character who was involved with the maid from his parents’ friend’s house.

However, by the end, I was convinced by his kind, sad eyes that he was a better Paul than I had imagined.

In a way, watching the film adaptation is like peeking inside the mind of another, who is thinking similarly, but with some slight but significant differences. They have read the same passages, but the picture they developed in their mind has its own influences. When the adaptation is of a well-loved book, it is even better, as the best books leave gaps for the readers to fill in their own way.

I have recently had a similar pleasure in watching the Harry Potter movies after reading the books with my children. While I am watching, I’m constantly surprised by how the writers and cinematographers have presented some of the scenes. I love seeing what the characters look like (even Hedwig and Crookshanks), and exploring the Hogwards and grounds they have created.

I doubt that I would have enjoyed the movies in the same way if I hadn’t read the books.

Rather than taking away from the story, having read it before seeing it improves the experience immeasurably.

Not all authors are as thrilled with the results when their books are turned into movies.

According to Shortlist, John Grisham’s response to the adaptation of The Chamber was,

“It could not have been handled worse by those involved, including me. I made a fundamental error when I sold the film rights before I finished writing the book. It was a dreadful movie. Gene Hackman was the only good thing in it.”

After American Psycho was adapted, Bret Easton Ellis said that there was an inherrent problem in recreating a book for the screen:

American Psycho was a book I didn’t think needed to be turned into a movie. I think the problem with American Psycho was that it was conceived as a novel, as a literary work with a very unreliable narrator at the centre of it and the medium of film demands answers.”

Anthony Burgess was haunted by the movie adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

“The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die.”

However, not all writers are disappointed in the screen adaptation of their novels. Following the release of Brokeback Mountain, authorAnnie Proulx said,

“I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire. And, when I saw the film for the first time, I was astonished that the characters of Jack and Ennis came surging into my mind again.”

As a reader and a film lover, I have to agree with Proulx that it is best when the director creates a film that is close to the original story they are adapting. Just like I’ve always struggled when someone sings a well-known and -loved song in a way that is entirely different to the original, I like to see the bones of what I have read when it is on the screen.

Next, I can’t wait to see the adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Hi Fleur, I enjoyed this post. As a fellow book and movie lover it was great to read another’s opinion on the topic of books adapted into film. I too get curious and excited to see how my favourite reads are played out on screen, and like you, I prefer when films stick to the original narrative. I read the Harry Potter books as a teenager and absolutely loved them, making my expectation of the films very high – well the films did not disappoint! I felt the magic of the books was captured so well on film and I love the books and movies in equal measure. Seeing my children enjoy the films and the characters now (years later) is like reliving the magic.

    Earlier this year I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and enjoyed it, so I was thrilled to see the film adaptation was being released. However, as much as I loved seeing the marsh come to life exactly as I had imagined it, I was disappointed with how main protagonist Kya Clark was portrayed, I felt she was a little too polished and I was wanting her wild and unruly side to be showcased more which I think would have given the film the depth it needed. Basically, I’d pick book over movie with that one!

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