07 October 2013

Book adaptations

There was a meme going around a week or two ago where bloggers listed the ten books they would like to see adapted to the screen. I couldn't resist, I think of this stuff all the time. Unlike most of the other blogposts about this, I don't have many recent books on my list. I know, that isn't much of a surprise.

Here are my ten. Keep in mind, all are fabulous books and deserve to be read even if they don't make it to Hollywood. (Which makes me think, I am not sure I want Hollywood making these films. They usually really screw it up. But I am sure we could find enough Ang Lees and Merchant/Ivory's to make these all work.)

In no particular order...

1. Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico. 
This would be not just the feel good picture of the year, but also a visual stunner. Imagine a meticulously made period piece full of Christian Dior post war fashions brought gloriously to the screen. A kind of 1950s The Devil Wears Prada meets, oh I don't know, who is the sweetest, most uplifting female character you can think of? [Stefan reminds me in the comments below that this has already been made into a movie with Angela Landsbury. I knew this in the back of my brain somewhere, but still want it (re)made into a film.]

Dior in 1957 right before his death. Mrs. Harris was published in 1958.

2. The Student Conductor by Robert Ford
Both novelists and filmmakers have a really hard time making enjoyable products about classical music that don't either dumb it down or make it so name droppy you want to strangle the writer for his/her pretensions. However, in The Student Conductor Robert Ford has created a fascinating, well written novel about life in the music world in Germany around at the time of reunification. And Ford is a playwright, so I am guessing he could really come up with a good screenplay.

I couldn't decide on just one young conductor.
(l to r) Kevin Griffiths, Oliver Zeffman, Han-Na Chang
3. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart 
Only in Paris would one find a piano shop that is essentially open by invitation only--you have to know someone who purchased a piano there before they will let you in. Thakfully they let Carhart in because it inspired to write this wonderful book the shop and pianos in general. I don't think I want this one fictionalized. How about just a really good documentary based on the book?

Possibly the actual shop.

4. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
A powerful, beautifully written novel written about an extremely dramatic period of South Africa's history. My only request is that they hire South African's to play the roles. That's a hard accent to nail.

The cover on the right is more indicative of the content, but the cover on the left is so wonderful I couldn't resist.

Bam. I was looking for cover art and came across this. Apparently the film has already been made.
Check out Literary Kicks for more on that.
5. Tender at the Bone and Comfort me with Apples by Ruth Reichl
Two memoirs of a life loving food writer would make a wonderful fictionalized adaptation. It could be like Julie and Julia meets Augusten Burroughs meets Under the Tuscan Sun. Reichl has such a joie de groove it is hard not to be swept up in her life.

6. The Hopkins Manuscript by R.C. Sherriff
The best part about turning this one into a film would be to not update anything. The novel is a WWII-era story of the moon on a collision course with Earth. It would be no fun if the film used 21st century technology to track and deal with the problem. I want the film to be just as cozy and old fashioned as the book. My review is here.

An alternate title.
7. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
This is perhaps not the novel that is most representative of Cather's writing, but it is such a wonderful book. Just imagine Little House on the Prairie meets Anne of Green Gables, except it doesn't take place in the Midwest or the Maritimes, but Quebec. My review is here.

8. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
I've said this one a million times before. Helen Mirren needs to reprise her QEII and turn this most delightful book into screen magic. My ecstatic review is here.

This rather uncomfortable photo could be a before image. As in before QEII discovers the pleasures of reading.
9. The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood
There are so many bad scripts that get turned into really, really expensive films. Why not take these three fascinating, expertly written novels, turn them into three excellent scripts without dumbing anything down, and then spend about a billion dollars filming all of them. I want epics! I want to see liobams and pigoons and those "living" chicken breasts and perhaps above all, I want to see the mo'hairs. But here is a question: Do the Crakers run around naked in the film? Do we get to see the giant blue penises? My review is here.

10. All of Barbara Pym's novels
 I left this one for last so those who are tired of my Pym cheer-leading don't write off this whole post. Unlike Murdoch or Brookner whose works deal so much with what is going on in a character's head, Pym's characters' mental tics are easily translatable to visual expression, physical action, or sensitive stage dressing. As I have said many times before, I think I would start with Some Tame Gazelle and then just film them all in the order they were written. I've written about Pym in many places, here is something about bringing her work to the screen.


  1. Great post -- now I'll have to think about which books I'd most like to see adapted. Barbara Pym would definitely make the list. I just finished my 5th Pym, The Sweet Dove Died -- a little departure from the rest of the oeuvre, I think, but I loved it.

    Of course I had to go back and read your post about Barbara Pym casting. To your list I'd add Tamsin Greig, who was just wonderful as Miss Bates in a recent BBC adaptation of Emma -- and may I also point out that nearly all the actors you mention have acted in Jane Austen adaptations?

    And thanks for the dreamy photo of Greg Wise. I suspect he is reading Sense and Sensibility.

  2. I'm with you on The Uncommon Reader - it would be perfect, especially if Alan Bennett had a small part/cameo.

  3. I love the little movie "Mrs Harris goes to Paris" and Angela Lansbury cast as Mrs Harris is genius!

  4. Ah, but wouldn't Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince be a great movie?

  5. I have a soft spot for the Angela Lansbury Mrs 'arris Goes to Paris film. It's not a perfect adaptation but the costumes are gorgeous, Angela Lansbury is adorable, and it has Omar Sharif being debonair. Delightful viewing.

    I would love to see some (all) of D.E. Stevenson's books filmed. Where could you find more perfect made-for-television fodder? In the same vein, Georgette Heyer and Angela Thirkell's complete works.

    But what I would really love are more docudramas based on memoirs and diaries. I never get tired of those.

  6. I think the way to go now is not movies but television (like Game of Thrones…I haven’t watched it, but I understand it is respectful of its source material). Then the producers can take the time needed to give the story its proper scope.
    I know there was a televised version of Trollope’s first two Barchester Chronicles books, but I would like to see the whole series televised.

  7. When I saw this meme a couple weeks ago I thought, 'NOOOOOO! Leave books alone and come up with your own ideas, stupid movie makers!' Haha!

    Seriously, though, I stay far away from movie adaptations of good books--I am almost always disappointed. Atwood's books are some of the LAST books I'd like movie makers to screw up. Sigh.

    And keep Peter Jackson FAR AWAY from my favorite books. Heh.

  8. Karen K: Well those Jane Austen adaptations use lots of great British actors. (Notice I didn't mention Gwenyth Paltrow)

    Alex: I wonder what part he could play.

    Stefan: You are so right. I updated the text above.

    Ted: That is a Murdoch I haven't read.

    Claire: You are right about Stevenson for made-for-television fodder. Although what I love in her books (everything is perfect) I am not sure I would like on screen.

    Ruthiella: Some I think would make good TV, like the Cather. Others I think would work well on the big screen.

    Heather: I hear you, but my assumption is that all of them will be made to perfection. Like the Merchant Ivory version of A Room With a View or Howard's End.

  9. I'd like to see a Pamuk novel done as a film his books would work well as a film if done well ,all the best stu

  10. Ah yes, Helen Mirren in The Uncommon Reader, that would be wonderful. And lots of corgis, of course.

  11. Completely agree with Helen Mirren and Uncommon Reader, and the Piano shop on the Left Bank. (Those are the only two of your list I've read.)

  12. I don't think Elizabeth and Charles look uncomfortable. I rather think it a dear, cozy, loving picture.

  13. Stu: I would probably enjoy a Pamuk film more than a Pamuk novel.

    Anna: I could watch a movie of just corgis.

    Susan: I think I need to reread Piano.

    Nan: Well, the look as comfortable as two people could look with a professional photographer at their feet.

  14. Have you heard the news? Maddaddam trilogy as an HBO series by Darren Aronovsky!

    1. I first read this comment yesterday, but until I saw Twitter this morning, I didn't realize that I skipped right over your first sentence. I thought you were just chiming in with your wish list. But it's for real!


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