Ones to Watch: Great Film Adaptions of Great Novels

There is a lot of satisfaction when, coming out of the cinema or tuning off the DVD player, you can say “It wasn’t as good as the book”. And then you bore your friends/partner/family by ranting about what the film adaption left out from the book, and how those missing pieces are what made the original story so great.

Sometimes though, a film adaption can leave you quite impressed. Maybe it’s because you watched the film before reading the book, so you didn’t judge too harshly, but once in a while it’s because the whole team behind the film actually did a damn good job.

And here are a few choices of mine that in my opinion made the cut :

Atonement (2007)

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A love story with wartime as the backdrop does not set you up for fun and laughter, this story being no exception. The cast behind this film were great: Keira Knightly and James MacAvoy did not disappoint, and the three actresses who portrayed Briony were all great leading ladies. The film visualised how the sleepy state of Britain and its inhabitants can be changed in a moment, be it a personal tragedy or war. What opens as peaceful becomes tumultuous, and the twist in the ending remains faithful to the bittersweet conclusion of McEwan’s novel.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

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Not the film sequel, because truth be told it was terrible, but the original film was as warming and as hilarious as the novel itself. I heard that there was a lot of grumbling about an American actress playing such an iconic British female character, but it is hard to imagine anyone else other than Renée Zellweger in the role. Despite this minuscule American influence it still captured the beloved quirks of British families and friends. Plus with Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, it’s hard to be any more British in a film.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

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This film was incredibly Gatsbyesque in its unashamed lavishness and being completely over-the-top. Whilst this might not be the most typical background to a tragic love story, the passion between Gatsby and Daisy was hardly conventional. I felt some scenes did not match Fitzgerald’s writing, for example the apartment party in New York was stifled and boring in the novel, but upbeat and energetic in the film. However it gave life to an old classic, and the soundtrack was both modern and jazzy, which was perfect for the adaption.

Never Let Me Go (2001)

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I adore the novel, and I adore the film too. It works because it remained very loyal to the book, which is all that bookworms ask of film directors. It captured the dreamy atmosphere of Ishiguru’s writing perfectly on camera, and the leads (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, Andrew Garfield) performed incredibly. Carey Mulligan is one of my favourite actresses so she always leaves me impressed. My only criticism is that because the dark undertones of the story are subtle and at times vague, it felt that the film didn’t explain as well as the novel what exactly is in store for the children of Hailsham, and so reading the novel first helped me enjoy the film more. However, it is a film I can watch repeatedly and never tire of.

Trainspotting (1996)

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I watched the film in the ungodly hours of the morning with my best friend, because we couldn’t be bothered sleeping. Perhaps the perfect atmosphere for the film, because we were trapped in our own laziness and tiredness. The film was not as amazingly disgusting as Welsh’s writing, but it was still cringe-inducing, toe-curlingly gross at times, and that is what I love about Welsh’s stories. The dark, cynical humour remained, and Scotland was unromanticised but still beloved. Plus the scene of the “Choose Life” speech was great, kudos to Danny Boyle.

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