I am a proud member of the Better World Books, Blackwell’s and Bookshop.org affiliate networks – ethical and independent online bookshops. Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you – plus I only link to books I’ve read, reviewed, and am sure you’ll enjoy!
Adapting a beloved novel into a film or TV series is not a task to be envied. On the one hand, the book has to be condensed into a formula that will capture audiences with ever-shortening attention spans. On the other, loyal fans stand ready to heap their disdain on perceived slights to the original story. To honour those who successfully navigated the fraught terrain between page and screen, I’ve put together a list of the top 10 best book adaptations into movies and television series:
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is up there with my favourite books of all time, so when it was adapted into a television series I was very dubious. However, the Hulu series takes the feminist rage at the heart of Atwood’s dystopian novel and does terrifying, radical things with it. I’m now four seasons in – the stakes keep getting higher, the atmosphere darker, and the acting better and better.
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Another favourite, this YA novel gave me so much comfort and inspiration in my teenage years. Stephen Chbosky directed the film adaptation himself, and a stellar cast featuring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller brings the author’s messy, beautiful, achingly human characters to life.
3. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
The power of If Beale Street Could Talk lies in its understated quality, which articulates so much in seemingly small moments. Barry Jenkins’ movie adaptation retains this quiet strength. The film captures the pain of besieged identities, with a tension that is always palpable just below the surface.
4. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
This is the one instance on this list where I can wholeheartedly recommend the film above the book! Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is amazing, but a slog by anyone’s standards. The 2012 movie musical takes the most enthralling moments of the book, adds some goosebump-inducing music, and voilá – an unforgettable, poignant emotional rollercoaster.
5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This film was absolutely slammed by the critics when it first came out in 2019 – I still fail to see why. My whole family loved it, and I thought it did justice to Tartt’s troubled, complex characters with tender precision.
6. Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Malorie Blackman’s devastating YA novel was first published in 2001 to huge popularity and critical acclaim, but it took until 2020 for it to get an adaptation. The BBC series kept me hooked from the start, portraying the gap between the wealthy Crosses and desperate Noughts with an unflinching gaze.
With Blackman’s series now grown to nine books, the BBC has plenty of material to work with – let’s hope they keep going!
7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I like to brag that I discovered The Hunger Games before it was cool, picking up the first book as I stocked up in Waterstones for the school holidays. I was hypnotised by its unique concept and strong female lead – I remember telling my family, ‘this is going to be big!’
When it came to the films, though, I threw aside my coolness and became a joyous participant in the widespread hype. My best friend and I used to excitedly anticipate each new installment, booking our cinema tickets weeks in advance. I still admire Jennifer Lawrence for stepping so brilliantly into the role of Katniss and bringing young women the heroine we’d been waiting so long for.
8. Journey’s End by R.C. Sherriff
Journey’s End is not concerned with the infamous battles of the First World War, but the moments in between – everyday life in the trenches, sharing meals, the awful wait before facing death. The 2017 movie adaptation of Sherriff’s play is attentive to the pain and poignancy of small details – it is no less devastating for its sparseness.
9. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I studied The Talented Mr Ripley in a module on crime fiction and my tutor recommended the 1999 film as a brilliant example of adaptation. Aside from a slightly more cowardly ending, it remains faithful to the protagonist’s matter-of-fact psychopathy. Also, the luscious, abundant backdrop of the Italian coastline perfectly showcases the world that Ripley is so desperate to enter.
10. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film proves that Shakespeare adaptations can be so much fun! Mad, flamboyant, and surprising, it brings a modern edge while still retaining the gorgeous original language. I remember my English teacher putting the movie on in class one day – and all of us students promptly swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio…
Have you read/watched any of these? What are your favourite book adaptations? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!
20 June 2020
3 October 2020
26 September 2020