Looking beyond the cover: Book to movie adaptations!

If you are a fellow bookworm, you might feel the urge to see your favorite books made into movies! I know I always find myself wondering if a certain scene or emotion in my mind can become part of a film! Truth be told, if they managed to pull off film adaptations of Tolkien´s work, anything is possible. However, one finds certain emotions and scenes tougher to portray on film than a “mere” Hobbit or Elf! Thanks to modern cinematography, special effects are easily pulled off and millions of dollars are invested into making the perfect on-screen fantasy. I have made a list of some of my personal favorites … you will notice I have a fondness of Victorian literature which I happen to study. This is why this list will be solely concentrated on this topic. I will chose different genres for upcoming lists. Feel free to let me know in the comments what your favorite Victorian adaptations are and what the next genre should be!

Charles Dickens – “Great Expectations”
Believe it or not, Dickens´ Pip has been made into a screen hero in seven different film versions and a few mini-series as well! The first movie adaptation dates back to 1917 and was a silent, black and white movie! I want to talk about the latest adaptation which came out as recent as 2012! It first caught my eye because one of my favorites actresses, Helena Bonham Carter, plays the role of Miss Havisham! I have no idea who made this genius move but she indeed is my personal highlight of this movie. One might think current adaptations of such classics lack the core of the theme and mainly focus of visual aspects, which is on one hand true; however, this version is both visually and dramatically pleasing. Directed by Mike Newell and starring Jeremy Irvine as Pip, this adaptation hits the nail on the head with its casting and production. The movie is “only” 128 minutes long; however, the book is fairly long, well over 500 pages and full of drama, themes and scenery. It has been in a way “squashed” and narrowed down but still manages to keep the book alive. Let us review the book for you who have not had the chance to read it. Great Expectations was released in 1861 and contains roughly 540 pages, depending on the edition. The story is a “bildungsroman”, it follows the life of young Pip and his development through life as he becomes “a true gentleman”. Pip is raised by his older sister, a very rough woman who mistreats him severely. His biggest support is his sister´s husband, the sweet-natured blacksmith Joe. Pip´s troubles start when he is sent to entertain a lonely lady, Miss Havisham, one of the most complex characters of the novel. He ends up falling in love with one of her guardians, the beautiful but cold-hearted Estella. The 2012 film version does a wonderful job of depicting the characters of Joe and Miss Havisham. The film´s Pip is in my personal opinion a bit too “aesthetically pleasing”, something one does not expect from the original character. Most of the characters are; however, spot-on and really wonderfully translated into film. If you are a fan of Dickens, you will love this adaptation.
Emily Bronte – “Wuthering Heights”
Emily Bronte´s only novel but what a classic it is indeed! It is really hard not to fall in love with Catherine and Heathcliff´s love story. One of the most tragic yet sincerely beautiful works ever written. The story is not told by the lovers but by observers from their point-of-view. Filled with Gothic elements and multi-faceted characters, this wonderful work of classic English literature will leave you teary-eyed throughout. The story of Catherine and Heathcliff´s love reminds us of a Gothic “Romeo and Juliet”! Twist and turns of a peculiar family history, unfulfilled loves and a ghost set out to revisit one of the most memorable love stories of Victorian literature. Needless to say, this novel has been adapted into film over ten times in various different languages, songs and poems have been inspired by it. It was hard to pick a favorite film adaptation. I am not a critic, this is merely my personal preference. I am going to go with the 1992 adaptation, directed by Peter Kosminsky and starring the amazing Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff. Heathcliff is without a doubt, the novel´s most complex character. The orphaned boy ends up as the sole owner of a large estate after being bullied for his “dark” appearance. Life has not been kind to him and this has transformed him into a bitter, cold-hearted man. His heart broken by the person he loves most, not even death could tear them apart. This film adaptation does an amazing job at following the original novel´s themes and motifs. The characters are nicely portrayed by the actors and it summarizes the story well.
Thomas Hardy – “Far From The Madding Crowd”
A wonderul love story set in a rural surrouding, this is Hardy´s fourth and arguably most famous novel. It follows the complex love story and personal development of Gabrial Oak and Bathsheba Everdene. After overcoming various life obstacles and problems, they finally find their way to one another at the end of the novel. The novel follows the lives of Bathsheba´s employees as well as her potential romantic involvements. The story binds the characters and interlocks them somehow into this web of lies, deceit and love. I wanted to include this novel into this short list mainly because of a new version which came out earlier this year! I am yet to get my hands on the DVD so I will not be discussing it but I dare say the trailer looks promising! My pick for this novel is the 1967 adaption directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp! This movie adaptation does a wonderul job of depicting the story, picks up the “nature” of the rural setting perfectly and features a very headstrong Bathsheba just as in the original story. Thomas Hardy grew up in a rural setting and was aware of the country problems and circumstances. This is one of the reasons this particular novel is so well written. One truly feels he relates to these characters and their problems throughout the novel. Schlesinger´s adaptation does a great job of “transporting” these characters onto the big screen. Have a look and decide for yourself.
Charlotte Bronte – “Jane Eyre”
To any literature-enthusiast, this particular work of art needs no introduction. The beautiful story of the orphan Jane as she hurdles through life is truly inspiring and touching. After a tough childhood spent with an evil aunt and being sent away to Lowood, young Jane has to learn from a young age how to take care of herself. Her life takes on an interesting turn as she manages to find herself a job as a governess far away from where her earliest years were spent. This novel also falls under the category of the “bildungsroman”, it traces Jane´s development from childhood into adulthood and beyond. One of the main characteristics is the figure of the “Byronic hero” which is here taken over by the character of Mr. Rochester, Jane´s love interest. Filled with Gothic elements and a colorful cast of different Victorian stock characters, this novel is not an easy task for any filmmaker. The novel has been adapted into several films but the one that caught my attention the most is the 1943 version starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. The film is directed by Robert Stevenson who also worked on the screenplay with none other than Aldous Huxley himself! John Houseman and Henry Koster also co-wrote the film and it is based on a radio adaptation of the novel. Interesting tidbits such as an early, uncredited appearance by Elizabeth Taylor make it even more interesting. The film is very nicely done considering its time and budget and is worth a watch. Be careful of the madwoman in the attic!


  • David Domingo

    Thanks for this nice moment of reading.
    It is an article written with great passion that could raise the interest for this kind of literature to a novice like me.

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