… Eight books that were adapted for the screen in 2016
If you’re a book lover, chances are, you have some complicated feelings surrounding screen adaptations of your favourite texts. There is no denying that literature provides some of the best characters, concepts and stories that one can find however translating that to the screen, although an appealing endeavour, is tricky to do without losing the magic that the narrative on the page conjures. While, as readers, the pictures in our heads are often relevant enough; screen adaptations offer us a unique way of glimpsing another person’s version of the same world and that is where the true potential of literary adaptation lies. 2016 has offered numerous book to film adaptations of both classic and modern phenomenon’s as well as lesser known texts that have been given a new life by film audiences. Here are 8 of the best:
WAR AND PEACE
(directed by Tom Harper)
based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
As any fan of Tolstoy’s epic will tell you, War and Peace is a challenging novel to even contemplate adapting (to put it lightly). Thus, a six-part series was then perhaps the only sufficient way to do so. However even with 6 hours worth of content, this series still felt too brief to encapsulate everything that Tolstoy’s novel presents its reader. Tom Harper directed this adaptation for the BBC and was, by all means, successful in visually capturing the vast scope of Tolstoy’s novel. At times both intimate and distant; heavenly and hellish – Harper’s conversion of the work has been at least the most encompassing to date and definitely a compelling watch in its own right. The grand battlefield sequences are just as engrossing as the discrete human interactions – and capturing this dichotomy is vital to an understanding of the power of Tolstoy’s writing. However to truly appreciate Tolstoy’s style and storytelling, the experience of reading his novel is crucial. Tolstoy’s emotional universality and philosophical musings, despite incredible efforts, are something that simply cannot be captured on screen and are well worth immersing yourself fully into this lengthy novel. Perhaps for those who haven’t yet delved into this work, it could be a great undertaking for 2017!
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
(directed by Colm McCarthy)
based on the novel by Mike Carey
Mike Carey penned the script for this adaptation of his novel of the same name at the same time as he was simultaneously adapting the novel from his prize winning short story ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’. Released just over two years after the novel’s initial publication, this film version of Carey’s story doesn’t bear much of an identical resemblance to the novel; clearly demonstrating Carey’s ability to create distinct narrative threads within the same world. The point of view in this film version is strictly that of the young ‘Girl’ – Melanie and much of the exposition that the novel so easily introduces must be done through dialogue here. There is not much doubt that, in all his involvement, this separation was Carey’s intention – and for good reason. Carey’s tale of a post-apocalyptic city overrun by a viral plague is familiar enough to both the science fiction horror reader and viewer. Wellsian overgrounds and undergrounds, a viral infection with the possibility of the same world-ending consequences as faced by Robert Matheson’s protagonist in I Am Legend – the influences are there, and yet Carey makes a very conscious move in both works towards a more philosophical look at the consequences of a wide-spread infection. The divide between human and ‘zombie’ are not as cut and dry here as they appear in the typical zombie film narratives, such as 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead. Carey’s novel and screenplay work towards the same ending but take very different roads to get there and consequently subvert both novelistic and filmic expectations. Paired with an exceptional score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer and ambitious visuals, The Girl with All The Gifts is a peculiarly quiet and thoughtful zombie film that fits comfortably into the canon of those which came before it whilst treading new and challenging ground. In this sense, it is an incredibly faithful adaptation of a novel which asks the reader to expand on their preconceived notions of humanity.
QUEEN OF KATWE
(directed by Mira Nair)
based on the novel by Tim Crothers
The title of the novel by Tim Crothers on which this film is based is almost a plot synopsis in and of itself; but ‘Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster’ doesn’t quite clue the reader into everything that they will inevitably take away from this inspiring true story. Director Mira Nair’s film version stays true to the facts of Crother’s novel and does little to create a Westernised Hollywood narrative out of the story of Phiona Mutesi and her rise to becoming the first female titled chess player in her country’s history as a teenager, trusting that her story is filmic enough – and it certainly is. Perhaps the most subtly radical concept of the film, though, is that the events of it occur ostensibly in Katwe; particularly in the slum area in which Phiona has grown up. Mutesi’s roots are important to the story and to her progression and growth outwith her birthplace and Crother’s spends much of his novel focusing on the culture and sociality of Katwe. After having been so impressed with the film, I bought the novel and in reading, I was struck by just how despondent Crother’s depiction of Katwe was. It was apparent to me that some of the more brutal realities were toned down for this film adaptation – although as much is to be almost expected by a film under the Disney moniker. As the title suggests, Mutesi’s dream is still on its way to being realised but both her biopic and its adaptation are hopeful and poignant reminders of human potential yet to be fully realised – no matter what situation we are in.
(directed by Steven Spielberg)
based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Steven Spielberg directs this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s literature classic ‘The BFG’. Centering on the fond relationship between a girl and her big, friendly giant – Spielberg’s adaptation relies heavily on CGI imagery yet never wavers in its dedication to placing the emotional bond of the two main characters at the forefront. Dahl’s cheerfully creative writing style is not lost in the dialogue on screen and Spielberg is the master of visually depicting child-like wonder. When both combine, they create a predictably pleasing experience for audiences of all ages.
THE JUNGLE BOOK
(directed by Jon Favreau)
based on ‘The Jungle Books’ by Rudyard Kipling
Another childhood classic; Disney’s newest adaptation of Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a lot less musical than their first (save for an out of place but somehow entirely necessary Christopher Walken led number). In fact, some of the only direct references to the source material come in the recitations of Kipling’s versified Laws of The Jungle. However, this adaptations’ masterful blend of CGI visuals and live -action are enough to earn it a solid recommendation from most. This particular incarnation relies more on its movie predecessor than Kipling’s work but the overall tone of this film does seem to have shades of Kipling’s darker preoccupations. The film establishes this not through a portrayal of Mowgli’s identity crisis; but in the pervasive danger and violence present throughout the film. This tonal nuance makes the film perhaps not as suitable for a very young audience as the 1967 version was, but – as many grown adults who have read and enjoyed Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Books’ will tell you – they may not be the intended target audience.
(directed by Tom Ford)
based on the novel ‘Tony & Susan’ by Austin Wright
Both versions of this complex story benefit from intertextuality as a means of exploring the motivations behind the creation of art and its implications in the lives of real human beings. Tom Ford’s undeniably stylish film adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel uses the present and past lives of its ‘real’ characters as a sort of narrative signposting; in which the main focus can be given to the story within the story – a manuscript delivered to the titular Susan by her novelist ex-husband. This intertextuality does lose some of its artistic reverence as a device when it is not it is no longer in the realm of the text and, in my opinion, the blending of timelines and realities is much more seamless in the novel than in the film. However, both the novel and its adaptation present neo-noir narratives that exploit the mysterious thematic content to explore the relationship between art and the individual. It presents the question of whether art is about immortalising one’s demons or exorcising them and this is what the film grapples with just as well as the novel.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (directed by David Yates)
based on the book by JK Rowling
2016 has been a particularly fruitful year for fans of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series; with the whirlwind summer hype concerning The Cursed Child and now this new potential franchise’s first film – Rowling fans have been very satisfied. ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’ may have had the luxury, in a way, of not being a particularly weighty piece of literature; both in the way of content and expectations surrounding it. Its source material is a 2001 companion book written and illustrated by JK Rowling, released in association with the Comic Relief charity. Looking at it now, much of its content seems to be the perfect exposition; detailing the history of interaction between muggles and magical beasts, the characteristics of all known fantastic creatures and so on. The narrative that this film adaptation introduces is obviously rooted in Rowling’s novella but is original and dynamic in it’s own right. Part of what made this a great adaptation was that it was not as unwaveringly tied to depicting the same storyline as its source material – frankly, because of the lack of one. This has allowed Yates’ adaptation the opportunity to be faithful yet build upon and further a new realm of the magical world. It’s an adaptation that came with a lot of expectation on its shoulders but had the freedom to deviate from the source material without upsetting too many fans. As such, it has received quite the contrary reception from Potter aficionados and casually fond readers (i.e. myself) alike!
(directed by Denis Vileneuve)
based on the short story ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang
Great science-fiction adaptations have been abound in 2016. Vileneuve’s Arrival is based on the short story by Ted Chaing. Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’ is a story heavily concerned with linguistics and the written language and as such, should not necessarily translate comfortably to the screen. However it is the aim of this study that makes it an engaging film as such a detailed scientific endeavour is all in the pursuit of communication with beings from beyond earth. Chiang deals with a plausibility not often explored in alien narratives; that an entirely different form of communication is used by extra-terrestrials. It’s a seemingly simple concept that is ripe with possibilities and much of this film, and Chiang’s story, is concerned with the trial and error of making a connection with a completely different form of life. However, this concept is stretched and explored to an unprecedented conclusion that cuts through the established tension to leave the audience to rethink the entire story that came before it. The short story and its film adaptation are strikingly similar and thankfully so; Chiang’s short story contains every element needed to establish it as a psychologically stimulating and emotionally shattering piece of work. Chiang’s short story was already one of my favourite science-fiction works and Arrival is definitely a worthy incarnation and a must-see.
Words by Sarah Hendry.