We’ve all been there — throwing the proverbial popcorn at the screen thanks to a movie or TV series that just doesn’t do the book justice. (I’m looking at you Netflix, with your dodgy Rebecca adaptation.)
Admittedly, all the detailed nuances of well-crafted prose will inevitably be lost to screen time and live action. I think we all tend to tiptoe into a movie or load up a show on our laptops with a few ounces of trepidation, fearing our favourite tales will be decimated to literary languishing limbo thanks to bad acting, directing or screenwriting.
However, every now and then the most glorious piece of filmmaking conspires to vie for first place with its book counterpart. And in recent years, we’ve had some doozies! Here are my Top 5 picks of screen adaptations that I’ve loved over the last year or two.
Little Women and Little Women (2019)
Director and writer Greta Gerwig managed to take a fond favourite of many generations of readers and movie audiences and still make it feel fresh and vibrant. Jo March is my spirit animal in many ways — a passionate and ambitious writer determined not to let the world dictate what direction she takes. And her treatment from both Gerwig and actress Saoirse Ronan was sublime. They captured the essence of plucky Jo and I was entranced.
Enter Timothée Chalamet (swoon) as Laurie, Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg and Eliza Scanlen as Beth — not to mention wonderful Laura Dern and Bob Odenkirk as Marmee and Papa — and you have a dazzling star-studded cast that embodied the March clan with aplomb.
Yet it is Gerwig’s play with the timeline that was the true triumph for me. By allowing Jo to truly reflect back on her life as she catapulted herself forward by throwing her fate into the arms of abandon, you are left marvelling at her might and empathising with her tussle with her expected place in the world.
Watch the trailer:
The Dry and The Dry (2021)
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading each book journalist-turned-author Jane Harper releases. They are easy-reading crime capers (dare I say it, good for airports and plane rides) that bring our harsh Australian landscapes to life as important backdrops to grisly murders or mysterious disappearances.
In The Dry, we have a city cop with country roots returning to his hometown for a funeral after an apparent and gruesome murder-suicide. Played by Eric Bana, Federal Agent Aaron Falk is convinced to stay and investigate the growing number of elements that don’t add up. While doing so, his presence triggers memories of the death of a close friend from his teenage years, along with renewed suspicion of his involvement.
The film captures the drought-stricken land that these country folk have had to acclimatise to over the years, as it wreaks havoc on their livelihoods and honours the book quite well. Bana is great; and watching Falk interact with quintessential Australian characters makes for gripping viewing.
We love our land, but we’re fearful of its vast and brutal qualities. This feeling simmers the whole way through and the cinematography captures that paradox quite nicely. You can’t help but marvel at the rugged beauty of the land, but you know that it is this brutality that creates a hardened community that protect their own against all odds.
A recommended film for when you want something with action and mystery.
Watch the trailer:
David Copperfield and The Personal History of David Copperfield(2019)
To be honest, I’m just as surprised at you that this screen adaptation made it on my list. This film truly fits the bill as an ‘adaptation’ — taking a lot of licence with the retelling of Charles Dicken’s memorable book, which is thought to be loosely based on the author himself.
I like to describe this movie as a rambunctious romp. Deliciously quirky and vibrant, it’s carried marvellously by a strong cast. Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci managed to tackle this absurd plotline and embed enough twisty turns and surreal elements to make it feel refreshing while remaining true to the magic of the book.
The film starts with Copperfield, played fabulously by Dev Patel, standing on stage and reciting the story of his life. We are then transported into this memory of his life, from childhood to adulthood, as we meet the array of people who enter and re-enter his days with either welcome relief or harrowing influence. Evocative sets and location add to the intrigue and help tell this story in layers of texture.
The resulting movie is cheery, uplifting, bonkers and beautiful.
Watch the trailer:
Good Omens and Good Omens(2019)
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett teamed up years ago to write a comedic, satirical novel that imagines an angel named Aziraphale and a demon called Crowley joining forces to prevent the recent birth of the anti-Christ becoming the catalyst for the apocalypse. Aziraphale and Crowley had previously spent a lot of time (centuries upon centuries) on earth in their appointed tasks — which is, to fight the other’s side. Now, they unite to ensure they can stay on earth a little longer, as they’re quite enjoying their time here.
The result is a play on ‘good cop bad cop’ with a few Odd Couple vibes. And of course, a massive battle that takes place between all kinds of characters that come straight from the pages of the book of Revelations.
And while the plot is implicitly biblical, it’s something most people will appreciate. There’s a huge narrative around free will and the existence of God — and where something like free will fits into God’s plan. To see that discussion crop up in pop culture is fascinating.
This comedic pairing and subsequent battle coming to life on screen in a six-episode series with Michael Sheen and David Tennant taking centre stage is hugely entertaining. It’s a largely faithful rendition of the book, with a lot of dialogue coming straight from the pages and witty brains of Gaiman and Pratchett.
This apocalyptic comedy is a light-hearted piece of writing, but it’s respectful of Christian beliefs and demands you to think about your own life and your destiny.
Watch the trailer:
Emma and Emma (2020)
It was during our first lockdown that I stumbled upon director Autumn de Wilde’s debut film and subsequent masterpiece. This pastel-hued, floral-abounding, rip-snorting film is wonderful. It gave just the right dose of frippery and escapism that I was needing to wile away the hours and forget I was in the midst of a pandemic.
Starring 2020’s unforgettable actress Anna Taylor-Joy of Queen’s Gambit fame as the titular character, Emma takes the familiar satire of one of Jane Austen’s most beloved stories and imbues it with modernity that feels fresh and jaunty.
The costumes! To die for. The cast — well, the dashing Mr Knightley was played by an equally dashing Johnny Flynn, while Mr Woodhouse was given a fabulous rendering by Bill Nighy.
Add this to your list of films to watch when the world has made you weary. I doubt you will regret it.
Fable and Fizz would like to acknowledge the Whadjuck Noongar people as the traditional owners and continual custodians on the lands and waters this content is primarily written on. I pay respects to their Elders — past and present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.