As far as I’m concerned, book adaptations work better on television because there’s more time to open out the story. In films, subplots and secondary characters are often either amalgamated or discarded altogether, and the story loses texture.
I can’t remember when I’ve ever been inspired to read a book after seeing the film on which it was based. Yet, TV shows have the opposite effect. Here are five that sent me back to the source:
Based on Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, this TV adaptation was a revelation. Henry VIII’s bid to get out of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn has been covered countless times on screen. But Wolf Hall is different. It tells the story from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view. Mantel’s Cromwell is clever, complex and passionate. Not the dour man in the shadows as he’s usually presented.
The series ends with Anne’s beheading. We’ll have to wait for the next chapter, which I’m guessing will chart the fall of Cromwell. Mantel’s third book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light will be published in 2017.
2. The Other Boleyn Girl
I’m not talking about the 2008 movie – as far as I’m concerned, that’s a total mess. No, back in 2003, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory was adapted for television by the BBC. We see the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn through the eyes of her sister Mary. Before Anne, Henry takes Mary as his mistress and she bears him a son. Despite her initial reluctance, she falls in love with Henry and her heart breaks when he casts her aside. She can only watch on as Anne pursues her deadly ambition. But things don’t end badly for ‘the other Boleyn girl’: she marries her father’s ex servant, William Stafford, and lives a happy life far away from the intrigues and dangers of Court.
In Wolf Hall, Mary is presented as pragmatic. There’s a hint that her marriage to Stafford is more about self-preservation than anything else.
Whether he’s riding his big black horse along Cornish cliffs or staring, broodingly out to sea, Ross Poldark, or Aidan Turner the actor who plays Poldark, is very easy on the eye. He’s definitely the main attraction in this TV adaptation of The Poldark Saga by Winston Graham. Ross is a risk-taker, a lawbreaker and not quite over his first love, Elizabeth, who also happens to be his cousin-in-law. Which causes a great deal of heartache for his wife, the feisty Demelza.
4. The Camomile Lawn
The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley was made into a mini-series by the BBC in the 1990s. The story jumps back and forth between World War II and the present day to follow the relationships between cousins. It’s funny, sad and strikingly unsentimental. In her first TV role, Jennifer Ehle plays the wonderfully wild and wise young Calypso and her mother, Rosemary Harris, play Calypso as an older woman. Mary Wesley’s biography, by Patrick Marnham, is called Wild Mary and it’s not too much of a stretch to think she may have based Calypso on herself.
I was only vaguely aware of the Outlander publishing phenomenon – I think I had the books confused with the movie Highlander and its sequels. It wasn’t till I was flicking channels and caught the series’ title song: the tune is the beguiling Skye Boat Song and the lyrics are a slight adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Sing Me a Song of a Lad that is Gone. By the time the pipes and drums kicked in, I was hooked. And even more so by the story of resourceful Claire; one minute she’s tentatively becoming reacquainted with her husband after the Second World War, and the next she’s trying to negotiate her way around Jacobite Scotland with only her wits, and a handsome clansman named Jamie Fraser, to protect her.
I think that we can all agree that TV is better than film when it comes to book adaptations.
YouTube Channel: Ingysket
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