…Seven book-to-TV adaptations
In the latest 12 Days of Christmas post from the Scottish Writers’ Centre, SWC’s Digital Media Officer Jessie Docherty shares her favourite book-to-TV adaptations.
Four of the best from this year…
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (Hulu, 2017)
If you haven’t seen this one, where have you been?! Margaret Atwood’s haunting dystopian novel has undergone many adaptations, for film, stage and radio to name a few. This series from Hulu ticks all the boxes. Fast paced, well-acted and scarily relevant despite the novel having been written over 30 years ago, it’s the intense believability which makes this drama so affecting. Atwood also deserves a special mention for Alias Grace, a Netflix adaptation of her novel of the same name, featuring Sarah Gadon as a cold and inscrutable young woman accused of murder. If The Handmaid’s Tale left you wanting more, I highly recommend checking it out.
American Gods – Neil Gaiman (Starz, 2017)
American Gods, originally published in 2001, is one of those novels that was just waiting for a screen adaptation. The novel imagines that gods of forgotten religions still roam the earth, waiting for someone to believe in them again. However, they are being crowded out by “new” gods of technology and media. With so many fantastic characters and incredibly vivid description, a visual interpretation was inevitable. The novel is a genuine epic, so it seems right to have an episodic structure rather than a film which would have been forced to cut a lot of the original narrative. If you like a modern fantasy with clever dialogue and dark humour, this one’s for you!
The Mist – Stephen King (Spike TV/Netflix, 2017)
This seems to have been the year of the Stephen King adaptation, with several big screen remakes receiving less than positive reviews (Anyone excited for the next IT film? Me neither). However, this series was a pleasant surprise. Tense and claustrophobic, it centres around one family trying to reach each other in a town that has been overcome by a mysterious mist. It soon becomes apparent that it’s not the mist that’s the problem, rather what’s hiding in it. Fans of The Walking Dead will love this unsettling horror.
Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams (Channel 4)
You can always count on Channel 4 to take a chance on something a little bit different. This series of ten stand-alone episodes is based on short stories by the late Philip K. Dick, with each one being set in a different world with different characters. Each episode is a piece of beautifully constructed sci-fi with gorgeous sets and costumes, not to mention some fantastic actors both familiar and unfamiliar. Best of all, the stand-alone structure and limited number of episodes leaves you wanting more. With television increasingly being dominated by American drama (as you can see from my choices above), it’s nice to know we can still hold our own and produce something memorable and unusual.
…and three to look forward to in 2018
Watership Down – Richard Addams (BBC/Netflix, 2018)
Originally planned to be on Netflix for 2017, this hotly anticipated mini-series has been pushed back to 2018 for online availability. The series has enlisted some big names such as James McAvoy and John Boyega and for those of you thinking it’s “just a kid’s cartoon”, writers have promised it will touch on serious issues such as displacement and environmental destruction. The series also promises more fulfilling roles for female rabbits, including the voice of the wonderful Olivia Colman, bringing Addam’s 1972 novel fully up-to-date.
Snowpiercer (Originally “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Tomorrow Studios, 2018)
Originally a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer has already received widespread critical acclaim in its cinematic incarnation. The 2013 film directed by Bong Joon-ho is essentially The Polar Express for adults. The last members of humanity have been packed into an impenetrable train to traverse the frozen wasteland that is a futuristic planet earth. The longer format of a television series will hopefully give more space to examine the detail of this new world and the backstory of the characters.
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn (HBO, 2018)
After the success of Gone Girl, the 2014 cinematic adaptation of the novel of the same name, it is unsurprising to see more Flynn adaptations on the horizon. Sharp Objects promises to be a tense physiological thriller, with Amy Adams playing Camille Preaker, a troubled young journalist who returns to her home town to report on a disturbing murder case. I am always keen for more complex female-led drama, and with Flynn on board as a screen-writer I feel confident that the series will do justice to the novel.
Words by Jessie Docherty