This week the lovelies at The Broke and the Bookish have encouraged us to share our picks for any previous Top Ten post, and it was such fun mulling this topic over. Books make the best movies. Just ask anyone in Hollywood (all their good ideas come from literature). Yes, the book is always better than the film. Yes, watching a beloved novel butchered on the big screen is like a dagger to the heart.
But when an adaptation gets it right...
Oh the joy! The thrill of seeing characters whom you love and identify with brought to life is...well, it's like coming home. I gladly admit to crying during the opening credits of an adaptation. I sat there in the darkened cinema with a bit of apprehension (adaptations are always a bit of a gamble), but when that treasured author's name flashed across the screen I felt the tears well up. I knew these characters and this world so well, had enjoyed them on the page so often, and now here they all were before my eyes.
Sometimes an adaptation portrays things just as I had imagined them, and it feels as though the filmmakers had plucked my thoughts from my brain and plastered it onto the screen. Sometimes an adaptation challenges me to consider a novel in a way I never had before And sometimes, it is pure magic.
So, without further ado, here are ten novels I hope to see translated to film.
Evelina by Frances Burney
by Edward Francisco Burney
People go nuts for Jane Austen adaptations/biopics/etc. -- and for good reason. Why then, do filmmakers ignore the novels of Fanny Burney, a writer whom many identify as a key influence on Austen? This story, about a young girl's entrance into London society after a rural upbringing, is one that would instantly appeal to period film fanatics. It has humor and a bit of romance. The settings and costumes would be sumptuous onscreen: ballgowns, parties, London streets, country estates. And the wigs! I get giddy just thinking about it.
And we thought 80s hair was over the top
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
This Newbery Honor-winning novel about a community of young girls who are groomed and trained to compete for the Prince's hand in marriage completely surprised me. I expected a run-of-the-mill fairy tale and was ecstatic to find instead a story that encourages education and independence in young women. Wouldn't it be a wonderful film for impressionable young girls? Hollywood is slowly moving away from the standard damsel-in-distress heroine presented to children, but more can be done in this arena. Hale's charming text offers a fantastic blueprint for filmmakers to follow.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Plath's autobiographical novel wouldn't be easy to watch on the big screen. Esther Greenwood's devastating struggle with depression is raw, painful and vividly depicted. But an adaptation, if done well, would provide some searing performances that would knock a viewer's socks off. Stigma around mental illness still persists in contemporary society, and nobody conveys the experience better than Sylvia Plath.
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have been adapted to a visual format ad nauseum, but nobody seems to care to share Anne's novels with a larger audience. Such a pity! This simple yet sweet tale of a Victorian governess's experiences could make a wonderful film. Its characters are memorable, and since it's a relatively short novel narrative butchering could be kept to a minimum. Nothing is worse than seeing a favorite text chopped to bits before your eyes!
The author, by her sister Charlotte
The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
All right, this is a tricky one. Conventions of Gothic fiction definitely wouldn't appeal to the average moviegoer. Everything is melodramatic, over the top and fainting fits abound. But this is precisely what I would love to see onscreen. If filmmakers embraced the cheesiness and theatricality of Radcliffe's novel, the results could be hilarious. Can't the BBC help us out with this one?
Pigs Have Wings by P.G. Wodehouse
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. P.G. Wodehouse cures all ills. I love him. While Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie brought the Jeeves novels to life, I'm dying to see some Blandings Castle stories given the same honor. Imagine a farcical, so-funny-your-sides-hurt Downton Abbey. That's what you get with Wodehouse. Who isn't on board with that? In Pigs Have Wings two country gentleman are at war, each bound and determined that their Berkshire sow will reign supreme at the Shropshire Agricultural Show. A diet supplement called Slimmo threatens to make its way into the feeding trough. Pigs are lost and found (pignapped?). Lovers quarrel. Lovers reunite. I've enjoyed every Wodehouse novel I've thus far had the pleasure to read, but this is a highlight!
(I posted a hilarious excerpt from a P.G. Wodehouse novel here. Have a peek if you're curious about this underrated author!)
A Berkshire pig like unto the Empress of Blandings
Cornell University Library
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This novel is included on the list precisely because I didn't love it. I enjoyed it. Always a sucker for literary vampires (Dracula rules!), I thought Kostova's historical approach -- her vampire is Vlad the Impaler, not just inspired by the legends surrounding this figure -- was original and intriguing. Unfortunately, Kostova's execution was a disappointment. Whole chunks of the novel dragged. A movie could fix that. By taking the author's fascinating ideas and eliminating the weaknesses with pacing, the result might be a film that surpasses the quality of its source material.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer is the author I turn to when I crave the splendour of Regency England but am (temporarily) bored with Lizzy, Emma, Elinor and Marianne. I would love to see filmmakers provide Austen fans with some adaptations of Heyer texts instead of the umpteenth version of Pride and Prejudice. Heyer narratives are familiar yet fresh. The humour and heart in Frederica could make a charming film.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Inspired by Kipling's The Jungle Book, this Newbery winner centers around a boy who is raised by the supernatural residents of a cemetery after the tragic death of his human, living family. It provides readers with both depth and escapism, and a skilfully adapted movie would offer viewers the same. Can you imagine what a good cinematographer could do with the Gothic cemetery setting? An adaptation is reportedly in the works. I just hope it does the book justice!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
One of the most enchanting novels I've read in years, I could immediately picture the charming characters depicted by Shaffer and Barrows. When I closed its pages, they had become dear friends. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, the epistolary novel provides a fresh perspective on the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. The characters are not defined by the war but by the sense of community they share with one another and the literature that solaces them.
Even as I was absorbed by the narrative, I frequently paused to think what a wonderful movie this could be. Imagine my elation, then, when I discovered that Kenneth Branagh will be directing an adaptation, for which filming is scheduled to begin later this year. Most of the casting has yet to be determined, but Kate Winslet has signed on to play the protagonist. I must admit to harboring high hopes for this one!
Are there any books you would like to see adapted for the big screen, or do you prefer for your favorite texts to remain untarnished? Have you ever seen a film translation outshine its source material? I would love to hear!