x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

As good as the book: Films that do justice to their literary originals

Most films adapted from literature disappoint. However, some remain faithful to the book and let actors shine in their character portrayals.

A scene from New Line Cinema’s “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.” AP Photo / New Line Productions, Pierre Vinet
A scene from New Line Cinema’s “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.” AP Photo / New Line Productions, Pierre Vinet

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Has there ever been a better casting for a lead film role? "Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself," Harper Lee, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on which the film is based, said of the magnificent Gregory Peck. Peck won the Best Actor Oscar, Horton Foote won for Best Adapted Screenplay, young Mary Badham as Scout was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Robert Duvall impressed in his film debut as Boo Radley, and the film's other honours are many. While Mockingbird does differ from the book in some subplotting and details, it reproduces its warmth and humour in an ennobling tale of racism and heroism in the US South of the 1930s.

Rick Arthur, deputy editor

Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

The director Peter Jackson's path to getting The Lord of the Rings trilogy on film screens was as rocky as the quest of Frodo (the books' protagonist) to Mount Doom. It was littered with legal battles, script revisions, long shooting days and never-ending post-production. Added to the mix was the close scrutiny of JRR Tolkien scholars and fans alike. So it was a big occasion when the first film finally made it to the cinemas in 2001. That year and each of the next two years, as the other two films premiered, my friends and I would troop to the local cinema early in the morning to watch the first run. We were enthralled by the beauty of Middle-earth, we cried for every death and loss, and we cheered for the battles won. Purists will argue that the movies are not faithful to Tolkien's vision. As a fan, I will argue that the magical experience of the films more than compensated for any such perceived pitfalls.

Olive Obina, photo researcher

Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Based on Roald Dahl's 1964 children's book, this film is filled with wonderful imagery, and its music adds tremendously to the intensity of the visual effects. Who could forget the chocolate rivers, the lick-able wallpaper, Violet as she balloons into a blueberry, the Oompa-Loompas, the half-size room and the shape and colours of the everlasting gobstopper? Or the scene of Charlie and Grandpa Joe as they float into the air after drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drinks? While filled with these fantastical, colourful moments, Willie Wonka also has a darker side, with terrifying scenes of meeting the evil Slugworth as well as the nightmarish boat trip (which in recent years has been edited out for television). The songs - Golden Ticket, Oompa Loompa and I Want It Now - are unforgettable. While the book is a treasure, the film has forever left an impression on my creative mind.

Kerri Abrams, art director

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

I loved this film so much I named my first-born child after its waif-like, eccentric and charming heroine, Holly Golightly. The adaptation is one of those rare screenplays that actually adds to the book, as opposed to detracting from it. Truman Capote's novella of the same name is of course very readable, but without Audrey Hepburn, the character of Holly is not nearly as beguiling. The screenplay, by George Axelrod, was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award but didn't win. However, Axelrod did win the Writers Guild of America's award for Best Written American Drama.

Helena Frith Powell, editor

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Can a film ever fully capture the drama, intensity and power of Shakespeare? Many would argue that several directors have tried and failed. However, when it comes to Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, I am not one of those dismayed fans. While the film retains the original dialogue, the Montagues and the Capulets are represented as warring business empires, with guns replacing swords and cars with roaring engines replacing horses. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and a modern cast, and the film shines, hitting all the right fervent notes. Labelled "too Hollywood" or "too MTV" by some critics, this is a fast-paced, enthralling adaptation that encapsulates a passionate and great love. Favourite scene? The first meeting between Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Clare Danes), gazing at each other through the transparent panes of an aquarium while a song by Des'ree plays in the background.

Jemma Nicholls, senior editor

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Who doesn't love the extraordinary Maggie Smith? The British actress won an Oscar in the title role as the unorthodox Scottish teacher triumphantly in her "prime". "All my pupils are the crème de la crème," she says, famously. But rather than just teach her impressionable little girls, she seizes on their young minds and feeds off the attention, bombarding them with her fanatical convictions, including fascism. One of Brodie's "set" eventually calls her out on her manipulation after the senseless death of one of the girls, a betrayal that strikes Brodie to the core. The adaptation of Muriel Spark's 1961 novel is a brilliant examination of power and influence and Smith sparkles as its captivating star.

Matt Hryciw, senior page editor

Trainspotting (1996)

While I could mention A Clockwork Orange, Lolita, Doctor Zhivago, Kes, The Graduate or more recently No Country for Old Men or An Education, I'm going to go with the more glaring choice in Trainspotting. A brutal, often hilarious and at times terrifying portrayal of Generation X, Irvine Welsh's novel follows a group of heroin users in the late Nineties in economically depressed Edinburgh and was adapted by the British filmmaker Danny Boyle. The film, as does the book, views the characters with neither contempt nor pity, which when dealing with the subject matter is a difficult task. It's unpalatable, maybe, but an uncompromising adaptation nonetheless. The British Film Institute ranks it 10th in its list of Top 100 British films of all time.

Katie Trotter, fashion director

The Yacoubian Building (2006)

I don't normally enjoy Arabic films (let alone properly understand them), but The Yacoubian Building is one of my favourites. In fact I read the 2002 book by Alaa al Aswany after I watched the film because of how much I enjoyed it - and loved the story even more. Being an Egyptian aware of just how corrupt the country has been, I was surprised (and thrilled) that this story even made its way to the bookshelves and cinemas there. It tells the story of the building's residents - including the doorman's son who wants to join the elitist police force and a newspaper editor whose loneliness is magnified by his secret love affair with another man - and how their lives change after the 1952 revolution. The film became Egypt's highest-grossing picture ever.

Nadia el Dasher, stylist

Pride and Prejudice (1995 miniseries)

No other version of Jane Austen's best-selling novel - including the 2005 film with the simpering and pouting Keira Knightley - is a patch on this six-part television series. Unusual for a British dramatisation, it had a captive audience on both sides of the Atlantic: The New York Times deemed it "splendid" while nearly half of Britain tuned in to the final episode. Colin Firth perfectly captured the haughty arrogance of Mr Darcy in a role that made his career, and the unspoken chemistry between him and Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle, is beautifully understated through lingering glances and crimson cheeks, yet so palpable as to make you buckle at the knees.

Tahira Yaqoob, senior feature writer

Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)

A classic film of a classic novel, Far from the Madding Crowd is based on one of Thomas Hardy's best books. From the opening scene of a farmer's sheep being driven off a cliff by an inexperienced sheepdog, the gifted director John Schlesinger shows the drudgery, hypocrisy and cruelty of rural life. Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie), beautiful and wilful, runs her uncle's farm, which she has inherited, by herself, and three potential suitors have her in their sights. Schlesinger captures the scope of the West Country landscape and climate, and shot the film where the story is set, in Hardy's Wessex (Dorset). It's a wonderful film - and unlike other Hardy stories, offers a cheerful ending.

Kevin McIndoe, page editor