Bibliophiles and filmophiles across the world have long argued over the adaptation questions. Which is best: the book or the film? And what do you do first: read or watch?
After seeing some truly impressive adaptations recently, I’ve been pondering this problem and come to one (very indefinite) conclusion: each one is different.
Sometimes I prefer to let the author’s words knit together in my mind and reveal an imaginary world that’s all my own. But occasionally a film director can achieve astonishing feats of creativity that go way beyond my little brain’s capability.
Here are some of my favourites…
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton/BBC
I chose this book as my bookclub read around a year ago, having been seduced by its glorious Amsterdam setting and mysterious historic plot. Pleasingly, it provoked some interesting discussions and was generally a hit with the group – and me! I was excited, then, by the announcement of a BBC reimagining. Over Christmas, I watched the entire two-and-a-half hours in one sitting and could not have been more impressed. It was engaging and true to the original, and the tiny amendments to the plot actually made the story much tighter and more accessible. I’d recommend both the book and the TV show, and suggest reading before watching.
Life of Pi – Yann Martel/Ang Lee
This was one of the (many) books that languished for months (perhaps years) on my shelves before I finally stuffed it in my bag to read on the train one day. Although I liked the story, it took me a while to finish as I never really found I was able to commit to the plot or characters. Enter the film. I rewatched this a couple of weeks back and was bowled over by how beautiful it is. It’s really a lesson in how a picture (over moving picture in this case) can tell the story of a thousand words. In this case, I’d probably side-step the book (although it’s still worth a go if you have the patience) and dive right into the visual delight that is the film.
The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger/Robert Schwentke
I fell in love with this book many years ago and it’s still one of my all-time favourites. Niffenegger expertly jumps back and forth along a timeline, delivering a non-linear yet cohesive tale of love thwarted by constant and unpredictable interruptions. It seemed like an ideal story to transfer to film, but the result was disappointing. I’d definitely recommend sticking to the book on this one and giving the film a swerve.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald/Baz Luhrmann
On hearing that The Great Gatsby was making its way to the big screen, directed by no less than Baz Luhrmann and starring no less than Leonardo DiCaprio, I was desperate to read the book first. I packed it in my suitcase and devoured the short novel in just a few days sat beside Italy’s Lake Garda. Perfect holiday reading. Back home, I hot-footed it to the cinema and took in the spectacular 1920s-style visuals and inspired 2013 soundtrack. The book and the film are equally fabulous; I just wish I’d not seen the movie quite so soon after reading the original.