We’ve all been there, right? Loved the book, hated the movie, wondered why we bothered. And yet, we know they’re different media and the stories have to change.
Mr. Right and I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society a few weeks ago. I’d read the book — by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows — shortly after it came out in 2008. The authors created such vivid images of London during the bombing that I felt I was there, even though I’ve never been to London, let alone seen my flat and everything in it, including my precious books, well, flattened. The epistolary — letter — format was a delight, allowing us to meet other characters and see the world, whether in London, Scotland, or Guernsey — as they saw it. Mr. Right doesn’t read much fiction and the story was new to him. The movie spends more time on Guernsey than in London, and we loved the scenery. A few characters disappeared or were combined, and the occupation of Juliet’s suitor changed, but on the whole, I felt the movie quite faithful to the book. Above all, it gave me the same feel as the book — a glimpse at strength and resilience in times of great turmoil, and the healing power of story. (And yes, it was fun to spot actors we’d seen in Downton Abbey.)
And it got me thinking about books made into movies. They’re different experiences, for sure. Some succeed better than others. A few I’ve loved:
Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak — Perhaps the best excised story, from a typically elaborate Russian novel, I’ve seen. So good that I can forgive director David Lean deviating from the first line. (“Yuri Zhivago was not a handsome man.”)
The Harry Potter movies — the books are so visual, and yet, the worlds so detailed and involved. Four different directors, and certainly the mood shifted, but that matched the shift in the books. Pretty much every BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout on HBO — only a handful of the stories were filmed, and 2-3 combined, but oh, gosh, it worked. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin — Ellis is so interior, I couldn’t imagine how that could translate, but Soirse Ronan made me a believer.
What of the failures? I know there are many, but neither of us can think of adaptations we hated at the moment. You can, right? What book-to-movie adaptations have you loved or hated?