The Literary Adaptation Book Tag

Since my two recent book reviews were of books that resulted in major films – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and The Night of the Hunter – I have decided to have a go at this book tag about literary adaptations, slightly changing the original book tag seen at Milibroteca (a Spanish language book blog).

The English Patient Film PosterI. What is your favourite literary adaptation? 

Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient [1996] adapted from the novel of the same name [1992] by Michael Ondaatje.

The English Patient is far from being the most faithful adaptation, but Minghella (The Talented Mr Ripley [1999]) conveyed the spirit and atmosphere of the novel perfectly, and the film boasts great performances from Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche. The score by Gabriel Yared (Betty Blue [1986]) is one of the most beautiful ever produced, too.

Virgin Suicides Film PosterII. What do you consider to be the best book-to-film adaptation?

Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides [1999] adapted from the novel of the same name [1993] by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

In my opinion, some of the best ever literary adaptations include Gone with the Wind [1939], Rosemary’s Baby [1968] and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [2001], but there is still something very special about Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, so I choose that film. It is a beautiful, haunting adaptation which remains largely faithful to the source material. Coppola did an amazing job conveying the suburban claustrophobia and hidden despair and tension of the girls.

III. Is there an adaptation that you do not like? 

Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist [2012], based on the book by Mohsin Hamid of the same name [2007], is an adaptation I like least of all.

Revolutionary RoadIV. What is the best portrayed character in book-to-film adaptations? 

April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road [2008], as portrayed by Kate Winslet.

There are many such characters out there, but I somehow always thought that Kate Winslet was the perfect April Wheeler in Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road [2008], based on the novel of the same name by Richard Yates. Winslet looks exactly as I pictured April would when reading the novel, and her performance elevated the film (as did the performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon).

Anna Karenina film posterV. What is the worst portrayed character in an adaptation?

Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina [2012], as portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

When I found out that Aaron Taylor-Johnson would be playing Count Vroksy in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, I thought it was a joke. That actor always looks immature and silly, and his looks are not exactly that heavenly or jaw-dropping to have two leading ladies fall for him in the plot, with one of them being the stunning and intelligent Anna Karenina. The only explanation for such a wrong and disastrous cast is that Knightley looks young and they had to find an actor who looks her age or younger to play Vronsky. 

VI. What is your favourite invented scene (not present in a book)?

I like the ending to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining [1980]. It was different from the book by Stephen King, but I still found it memorable and effective. 

The Prestige Film PosterVII. What film were you most surprised to find out was a book first? 

Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige [2006].

Perhaps many people knew perfectly well that the movie The Prestige is based on the novel of the same name [1995] by Christopher Priest, but it was somehow big news for me. Talking about surprises, I always have to remind myself that many Hitchcock films are literary adaptations and that includes Hitchcock’s The Birds [1963], Spellbound [1945], Suspicion [1941] and Psycho [1960]. 

the bell jarVIII. What book were you most surprised to find out they are “re-making” as a film? 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. 

I am surprised that Kirsten Dunst is set to launch her film director career with the literary adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s only novel – The Bell Jar. It is surprising because the previous adaptation of 1979 was a bit of a disaster and the novel is difficult to adapt because most “action” is going on inside the heroine’s head. For that reason it will be as difficult to adapt The Catcher in the Rye

IX. What film do you consider to be better than its respective book?

I consider One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Secret in Their Eyes [2009] to be better than their respective books by Ken Kesey and Eduardo Sacheri respectively. 

X. What is your most anticipated literary adaptation? 

I would love to see Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life on big screen. Until that happens, I am eagerly awaiting to see what they have made out of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a film to hit cinemas this autumn.

Have you seen/read any of the films/books listed above? What do you think of them? Do you have a favourite or least favourite book-to-film adaptation? 

17 thoughts on “The Literary Adaptation Book Tag

  1. As unnecessarily bloated as the adaptation of The Hobbit was, (Ok, the dragon was pretty cool) Peter Jackson’s earlier three films did an outstanding job of translating The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. My least favorite was Susanne Bier’s adaptation of Ron Rash’s masterpiece, Serena. An outstanding cast totally wasted. The film captured none of the magnificence of the landscape or the Lady MacBethian horror of the lead.

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    1. Yes, I agree. The Lord of the Rings films were very good adaptations.

      Btw, I have finished reading Serena by Rash and the review to come as a next post. I really loved the book. I looked up the film Serena and I have read some negative reviews. Yes, it is a shame that it did not capture the magic of the novel. I do not really agree with the casting choice as well. I do not particularly like Bradley Cooper or Jennifer Lawrence, and they were actually a bit far from Pemberton and Serena I pictured while reading the book. Hard to explain, but Lawrence looks too dolled up and too feminine even to play Serena in the shots, and I expected someone subtler and quietly powerful, maybe, more nuanced, elegant, more intelligent-looking to play Serena than what Lawrence can actually deliver. If I am making sense? 🙂

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  2. This is a great tag! The Talented Mr Ripley is one of my favourite films ever – all the better for not being faithful to the (also excellent) book. The Virgin Suicides works so well in both mediums. I also agree that the Lord of the Rings films were brilliant (IMO, much better than the books!)

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    1. Yes, The Talented Mr Ripley is a great film. Anthony Minghella was a very talented director. I am still to see Plein Soleil too, which is another adaptation of the novel.

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    1. I am glad you agree on the Cuckoo’s Nest. Never Let Me Go? Possibly. I still prefer the novel, but the film did have great ensemble cast.

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  3. I just read The Bell Jar and didn’t know there was new film adaptation coming. That should be interesting since, as you point out, there’s not much action. After watching several book-to-movies this year, I have found that a lot of books just can’t be adapted to film in a captivating way because books tell and movies show. The best adaptations I’ve seen were of books with a lot of action.

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    1. I agree, most great adaptations have much action and it is difficult to convey to the screen emotional states, internal dilemmas, worries, etc. In that respect, a film’s soundtrack or some interesting shots help, but it takes a fair amount of creativity, too.

      Re The Bell Jar, yes, Kirsten Dunst is set to direct with Dakota Fanning starring in the lead role, though today I read an update which stated that the production is stalled again, meaning that they may now be having second thoughts about it.

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    1. I feel exactly the same, but sometimes adaptations pleasantly surprise me, for example, adaptations of Ira Levin novels which have a lot of action, such as The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby. I haven’t read or seen Me Before You, but I have read some positive book reviews.

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