Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations

There is a fine line between a good book adaptation and a poor one. The smallest thing can tip the scales: changing the ending, removing a character, inventing a character, or changing the character roles which alter their onscreen personality (looking at your Ron Weasley, you deserved better).

Booklovers crave and desire to see their favourite books come to the big screen, but at the same time there is a deep trepidation that there will be a great injustice and disservice to the characters and the overall story. I could write page after page of bad book to film adaptations and while that is tempting, it is negative and a bit mean so instead I want to focus on the few I have found which were truly wonderful movies that stay true to the original story.

If a book becomes a movie and I see a runtime of 2.5 hours I have a good feeling because so often it means a great adaptation with a lot true to the book. Not always the case, there will always be exceptions, but it gives me hope.

The Lord of The Rings Series (Extended editions) – Anyone who is out there thinking that 3 hours is enough time to swoon over Aragorn and his wonderful hair is greatly mistaken. I sat through the extended editions of all three films because if I was going to watch them I was going to do it right. No doubt unimportant plot points were included in those extra 30 minutes but it was a great representation of the books. All the little moments and extended scenes, the minor things that became big. The only issue is Merry and Pippin don’t get the serious portrayal they deserve, there’s cheeky but then there’s foolish which Jackson did a bit too much.

The Martian – I was curious how the greatest book of all time was going to be portrayed in film but I had nothing to worry about. There is so much to love about this movie and every minute was a delight. The only downside is the best part of the book was not included re: Aquaman and whales. Other than that, it was a marvellous film from start to finish and felt like a true depiction of the book, minor addition to the end aside.

Gone Girl – For all the hate I had for the book, the movie is actually an accurate representation of the story. I was curious how they would show the flashbacks and the ‘diary’ component but David Fincher has done a great job. It might have been a better movie to see without reading the book because I didn’t hate Nick quite as much in the movie.

Paper Towns – This one I was surprised by my own reaction to. There are changes to the story, a few character moments tweaked and swapped, but the overall theme and feeling of the book has been translated to the screen really well. It felt the same as the book, even though there were a few changes it didn’t matter. It stayed true to the message even with the required movie changes and I was impressed.

The Hunger Games – One of the best adaptations I have seen of a book. It had everything that made the books amazing and it felt as strong and powerful watching it as when I was reading it. I felt the books were playing out in front of me and I loved every minute of it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – I remember this being the first movie adaptation of a book I’d really paid attention to. I have a vivid memory as it began thinking it was word for word of the book and I loved everything about it. Sure Peeves is missing, but there’s so much else true to that first book that brought that magical experience to life.

Honourable mentions

The Book Thief – I missed a few of the nuances and scenes from the book but it was still an emotional kick in the guts. Not quite as powerful as the book, but still excellent nonetheless.

The Princess Bride – I actually fell in love with the movie before I read the book many years later and I was surprised at their similarities. It’s not an unlikeable movie, quite wonderful in fact, but there are a few changes but the spirit remains and what was left in was delightful.

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I also hated Girl on the Train, and was yes, was surprised I hated the movie as well. Funny that…

These are only the adaptations I have seen, if there are some excellent movie adaptations out there of books please let me know so I can check them out.

That was Shakespeare?

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare
– Virginia Woolf

While in terms of human civilisation Woolf may be correct, but as the 400th anniversary of his death approaches it’s clear that Shakespeare is not going away anytime soon. The simplest search proves that Shakespeare is ingrained heavily in today’s culture, not only his original works, but in adaptations and reimaginings, and his influence is undeniably impressive.

There are grand, traditional movies by great directors that bring Shakespeare’s original words to the screen, and there are remakes that play with dialogue or characters but still tell the same story. These modern adaptations can be so clever that you don’t even realise they are Shakespeare adaptations, or they can bring together the new and the old into something fantastic and memorable.

Movies are not the only thing to get the Shakespeare treatment, literature is just as filled with people retelling the works of Shakespeare in new and creative ways. From graphic novels to feminist retellings there are some wonderfully creative retellings out there.

 There really are too many to go into depth about but I’ve linked them to the Wiki page, IMDB page, or other sources like an ultimate movie list from No Sweat Shakespeare. Since there are so many to pick from so I’ve only chosen a select few, some of the greats and some of the sneaky adaptations that may have slipped past you, and some that I myself only just discovered were Shakespeare in disguise.

Movies

Laurence Olivier in Henry V

Laurence Olivier in Henry V

Traditional

Henry V (1944) dir. Laurence Olivier IMDB

Hamlet (1948) dir. Laurence Olivier IMDB

Othello (1952) dir. Orson Welles IMDB

Julius Caesar (1953) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz IMDB

Taming of the Shrew (1967) dir. Franco Zeffirelli IMDB

Romeo and Juliet (1968) dir. Franco Zeffirelli IMDB

Macbeth (1971) dir. Roman Polanski IMDB

Henry V (1989) dir. Kenneth Branagh IMDB

Hamlet (1990) dir. Franco Zeffirelli IMDB

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) dir. Kenneth Branagh IMDB

Hamlet (1996) dir. Kenneth Branagh IMDB

Coriolanus (2011) dir. Ralph Fiennes IMDB

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) dir. Joss Whedon IMDB

Remixed

The Boys from Syrcacuse (1940) IMDB dir. A. Edward Sutherland (The Comedy of Errors)

Kiss Me Kate (1953) IMDB dir. George Sidney (Taming of the Shrew)

Forbidden Planet (1956) IMDB dir. Fred M. Wilcox (The Tempest)

Throne of Blood (1957) IMDB dir. Akira Kurosawa (Macbeth)

West Side Story (1961)  IMDB dir. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (Romeo and Juliet)

Chimes at Midnight (1965) IMDB dir. Orson Welles (Multiple plays)

My Own Private Idaho (1991) IMDB dir. Gus Van Sant (Henry IV and Henry V)

The Lion King (1994) IMDB dir. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff (Hamlet)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) IMDB dir. Baz Luhrmann

10 Things I Hate About You (1999) IMDB dir. Gil Junger (Taming of the Shrew)

Hamlet (2000) IMDB dir. Michael Almereyda

Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) IMDB dir. Kenneth Branagh

She’s the Man (2012) IMDB dir.  Andy Fickman (Twelfth Night)

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo+Juliet

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet

Books

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (The Winter’s Tale)

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (King Lear)

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (The Taming of the Shrew)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (Hamlet)

The Dead Father’s Club by Matt Haig (Hamlet)

A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchinson (Hamlet)

Exit Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston  (The Winter’s Tale)

Fool by Christopher Moore (King Lear)

Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (The Tempest)

Warm Bodies by Issac Marion (Romeo and Juliet)

Graphic Novels

Requiem of the Rose King by Aya Kanno (Richard III)

Kill Shakespeare by Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger (Multiple plays)

Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly (Romeo and Juliet)

 

There are arguments for whether a traditional or remake is better to see first if you’re new to all things Shakespeare. I have found seeing an adaptation first can help you make sense of the story and get a handle on what’s happening, but on the other hand, if you see the traditional first you can pick up the clever references that have been included when you do see an adaptation. The other fun thing about adaptations is seeing one and not realising it was Shakespeare until later.

Hopefully this list has offered up some great suggestions to start or continue your Shakespeare experience and maybe even enlightened you about just how ingrained Shakespeare has become and how versatile he can be! If I’ve left off one that’s your absolute favourite, let me know in the comments.

Links and Bits

Book Riot | Shortlist

Flavorwire | Refinery29

The Ultimate Movie Adaptation List

 

Films About Shakespeare

We all know about the myriad of adaptations about Shakespeare’s plays, but there are a few adaptations and productions about the man himself. I’ve only looked at three here, but I’m sure there are more. A quick Google search brings up mainly his play adaptations, so if you know of any others, let me know, I’d love to watch them.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

MV5BMTc0ODI2NDk2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTIzNDQ4OQ@@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_This one is the biggie. The classic Shakespeare film that won all the awards and everyone loved. The British-American romantic comedy-drama was released in 1998 and centres around the fictitious love affair between Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), with many characters based on real historical figures. Set in 1593 it shows Shakespeare writing his classic Romeo and Juliet and there are many references to his other works as well. It remains a popular movie with a 93% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, and at the time won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. Some big names starred in at as well including Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, and Geoffrey Rush. While not that historically accurate it is an interesting and enjoyable film, it was one of my earliest exposures to Shakespeare as a kid and I loved it.

Trailer

IMDB

Anonymous (2011)

MV5BMjAxOTA5MTMxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDI4MzU0NQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Starring Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, this political thriller and historical drama looks at whether de Vere could be the real author of the Shakespeare plays. I am going to talk more about the authorship debate in a later post so I won’t go into it too much here, but it is a curious claim people have made. De Vere is depicted as a literary prodigy and Elizabeth I’s occasional lover, and many of the events are highly dramatised. Where Shakespeare comes into play is that De Vere uses him as a frontman to have his plays and poems performed. For all the controversy and conspiracy theories, I actually liked this film. It was a compelling case but one deeply flawed and one that did not sway my opinion. So much of the argument is based on ignoring key facts, but despite that, it was interesting.

Trailer

IMDB

Bill (2015)

MV5BNjkxOTkzNDgwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDQxNTg4NzE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_As a lover of the TV series Horrible Histories I was excited to hear the principal performers from it were making a movie about Shakespeare. This adventure-comedy film is a fictitious version of a young Shakespeare’s search for fame and fortune and tries to explain what happened during Shakespeare’s lost years. When Queen Elizabeth I wants a play written Shakespeare sees his chance, and with an evil plot to foil as well there is plenty of excitement and humour on offer. The six lead actors play multiple roles, just like on Horrible Histories, and while unfortunately there are no musical numbers to enjoy, the laughter and cheekiness is prevalent. Mathew Baynton stars as Shakespeare, with Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rockard, and Ben Willbond alongside him.

Trailer

IMDB

Extras

While they’re not massive productions or movies, there have been other instances where Shakespeare has made it to the screen.

Doctor Who

From the classic series to the new era Shakespeare has been a reoccurring figure in many Doctor Who episodes. In 2007 he got an episode devoted entirely to him with The Shakespeare Code. The full list of Shakespeare in Doctor Who can be found here.

Waste of Shame (2005) – Mini Series

This 90 minute television drama focuses on Shakespeare and the composition of his sonnets. The story depicts moments of Shakespeare’s life with Anne and son Hamnet, as well as other life experiences he has that influences his sonnets. Rupert Graves plays Shakespeare with a supporting cast including Zoë Wanamaker, Tom Hiddleston, and Indira Varma.

Trailer

IMDB

William Shakespeare (1978) – Mini Series

This mini-series, also known as Life of Shakespeare and William Shakespeare: his Life & Times, is a historical drama. Broadcast in six parts it is a dramatisation of Shakespeare’s life and each episode was intended to be based around the creation of one of his plays with real life experiences influenced the writing. Shakespeare is played by Tim Curry with Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe and Paul Freeman as Richard Burbage.

IMDB