Last week I watched and loved Can You Ever Forgive Me? which stars Melissa McCarthy as real life author Lee Israel, who wrote several favourable biographies before being convited of forgery.
The film is based on her biography and it got me thinking about other book to film adaptations that have worked particularly well.
Here are a few of my favourites!
1. Stand By Me (from The Body by Stephen King)
In my opinion, Rob Reiner’s adaptation is one of the definitive coming of age movies. Featuring fantastic performances from Will Wheaton and the late River Phoenix, this is a heartfelt and enjoyable story of friendship and self-discovery
2. Let the Right One In (from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist)
I think that Let the Right One In is a masterclass in cinema and one of the best vampire movies ever. Rather than focusing on the usual gore and fright associated with vampires, Let the Right One In explores the pain and loneliness of existing in a world where you can never die. I reviewed the book on the blog, but thought the movie was one of those exceptions where the film is better than the source material.
3. Dangerous Liasions (written by Christopher Hampton, based on his play Les liaisons dangereuses, which was itself adapted from the 18th-century French novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos)
Is there anything better than watching John Malkovich and Glenn Close connive and scheme their way around the French Court of Louis II? I don’t think so! Perfectly cast and stunningly shot, I can watch this one over and over again!
4. American Psycho (from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis)
This might be a controversial choice – it’s a controversial book! Mary Harron’s pitch perfect adaptation features a preening, pouting performance by Christian Bale as the infamous Patrick Bateman and while it doesn’t shy away from the horror of the book, it also captures the dark humour that is at the heart of American Psycho.
5. Don’t Look Now (from the short story by Daphne DuMaurier)
Nicholas Roeg takes a slippery, unusual story by Daphne DuMaurier and turns it into a slippery, unusual film that defies logic but oozes atmosphere and chills. Who can forget that red coat? Those sisters? For me, this film captures the very essence of the story it is based on.
6. The Remains of the Day (based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro)
The Remains of the Day is a subtle tale of a thwarted life and a thwarted love and James Ivory’s film boasts two stunningly undersated performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson who perfectly capture the tragedy of trapped lives.
7. The Sweet Hereafter (from the novel by Russell Banks)
Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter won the 1997 Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival and earned Egoyan a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. The tale of a school bus accident in a small Canadian town that results in the deaths of numerous children and the class-action lawsuit that ensues, The Sweet Hereafter is not an easy watch, but it’s a powerful one.
8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (from the novel by Muriel Spark)
It’s hard to picture Miss Jean Brodie now without thinking of Maggie Smith who excels in this portrait of an unrestrained teacher whose unorthodox teaching methods in an all-girls school have devestating consequences.
9. We Need to Talk About Kevin (from the novel by Lionel Shriver)
Lynne Ramsay perfectly side-stepped some of the issues that could have arisen from adaptation Shriver’s controversial and highly-acclaimed novel by creating an other-worldy film that is as beautiful to look at as it’s subject matter is horrifying. Tilda Swinton is wonderful in the lead and although the film may have been less ambigious than the novel, it is still a fantastic watch. I was also tempted to include Ramsay’s other movies adapted from books – You Were Never Really Here and Morvern Callar – as they are both wonderful.
10. Brokeback Mountain (from the story by E Annie Proulx)
Brokeback Mountain might be based on a short story but it is a sweeping epic of love won and lost between two young men, a Wyoming ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, who meet in the summer of 1963 shepherding in the harsh, high grasslands of contemporary Wyoming. Adapted by Larry McMurtry no less, the film features sterling performances from all the leads and won two Oscars – one for adapted screenplay and another for Best Director for Ang Lee.
There were a few more I could have included here of course, but these are just a few of my favourites. Let me know about your favourite adaptations in the comments below!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!