Some of you may have noticed the shared origins of two outstanding new epic films both come from books – Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car originally came from a modern Haruki Murakami short story. 

Film and tv media regularly plunder literature for source material, especially best-sellers, therefore reducing the risk of small audiences. After all, two of the biggest film franchise series to date come from best-selling publishing phenomenons though rather different eras and styles are Ian Fleming’s Bond films and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Even excluding Austin, Dickens, Shakespeare, Greek and vampire mythology, literally hundreds of adaptations, whether traditional, contemporary or futuristic add to this large pantheon of screen entertainment. 

However, that road from page to screen is never an easy one. Occasionally, a near perfect cinematic or tv realisation of a book will appear, like the aforementioned – some of my favourite examples include: 

  • The Talented Mr Ripley,
  • The Great Gatsby,
  • The Tin Drum,
  • The English Patient,
  • Doctor Zhivago,
  • The Age of Innocence,
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,
  • The Shining, Misery & Carrie,
  • Room,
  • We Need to Talk about Kevin,
  • Highrise,
  • A Clockwork Orange,
  • The Queen’s Gambit,
  • Master & Commander,
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary, and
  • Normal People.

Interestingly, two of cinema’s most popular and enduring film classics are based on rather weaker books, The Godfather and Jaws, thus proving that it’s not necessary the literary credentials but an original premise that counts but the creative input that re-interprets it. 

Then we come to the tricky category that most people would rather forget, and this is the problematic film interpretation, often regardless of the original material’s quality. Alex Garland’s novel  The Beach, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveller’s Wife, and many more go to show that, no matter how beloved the source material, the films are arguably not of the same quality.

The Tank Girl feature film based on the cult comic book of the same name was such a flop that the UK premiere hid the film and just had a party and perhaps the less said about the more recent Cats adaptation… the better.

a gif from cats
cats gif

– Roz Kidd

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash