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A Reader of Fictions: Top Ten Film Adaptations of Books

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Top Ten Film Adaptations of Books

There will be some really fantastic book-based movies missing from this list. I decided that I need to have read the book as well as seen the movie to judge whether it is a good adaptation or not. These are the best of those I have seen and read to date. In trying to decide what movies would make my top ten, I realized that I own a lot of movies based on books. A whole lot. Narrowing my list down to ten was tough, but them's the rules. However, I never said I couldn't offer honorable mentions: Everything Is Illuminated, Mansfield Park, Chocolat and Casino Royale. So here goes.

10. Bleak House (2005) - Starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Denis Lawson and Carey Mulligan

Making Dickens into a two hour movie is pretty much impossible, because there are a ton of characters and even more pages of lots of stuff happening. Having read Bleak House last year, a rather arduous process, I can rightly say that the plot is really intricate. This is why Dickens' works tend to be turned into miniseries like this one, which clocks in at 510 minutes (over eight hours). Intimidating, I know, but so so so worth it. I have watched this in one long sitting (well, with some bathroom and food breaks) a couple of times. The actors will be familiar to people who watch British shows, but the only one who will be really familiar to most Americans is the woman from the X-Files, who puts in the worst performance in the film (and gets to be on the cover for the film). There is much betrayal and melodrama, but I for one find it superb. The movie definitely moves the plot along better than the novel, which I might not have liked if I didn't already know and care about the characters.

9. I Capture the Castle (2003) - Starring Romola Garai, Rose Byrne and Bill Nighy

I really love myself the Brits. They just make such marvelous dramas and comedies (well, except when they don't...I have been betrayed a few times). I reviewed the book by Dodie Smith just two days ago. The novel is good, but the movie made me care more about the characters. The dramas are easier to comprehend when you can really look at the people involved. Plus, the film itself is incredibly gorgeous, not to mention some of the actors (why hello, Henry Cavill).



8. The Lord of the Rings (2001-3) - Starring Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellan and Viggo Mortensen

These movies are great. I loved them long before I loved the books, although I did discover their glory while I was in college. Of course, in my exploration of the novels, I found some of the weaknesses of the film versions (most obviously, in the character defamation of Faramir), which is why they are this far down the list. Still, they will always be a favorite. The cast, the location and the music were all perfect.

7. Twelfth Night (1996) - Starring Imogen Stubbs, Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter

Twelfth Night is my very favorite Shakespeare play, so it should perhaps come as little surprise that the movie found its way onto my list. This movie is not super well known, which is again unsurprising. It probably didn't have a huge budget, even though it did nab some big names (Ben Kingsley's performance is pretty divine). While I do not much like Imogen Stubbs, who plays Viola, or the man who plays the Count, I still adore this charming film. There is just something so right about it that I cannot put into words. I suspect it has something to do with the supporting cast.

6. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) - Starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett and Frances O'Connor

They did pretty much everything right in the production of this film. Certainly the cast is top notch, although it also earns my only complaint. The only element of the film I am at all irritated by is Reese Witherspoon's portrayal of Cecily. She's not British and this bothers me. Sometimes her accent seems a bit off and I can't help but think, why not cast a Brit? That said, if you pass up this film (or this play) you are cheating yourself from an incredibly delightful experience.



5. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Since this film is animated, I couldn't put the cast list on, as it depends on whether you go with the subbed or dubbed version. I have never been an anime snob and have always chosen based on which I like the voice actors better in. For this movie, I always go dubbed, because Howl is Christian Bale, which is, frankly, fantastic. He makes a great broody hero. Both the book and the film are exceedingly charming, funny, dark, romantic and fantastical, even though they do have their share of differences. I was surprised at the number of changes made from the book, but I think they worked.

4. Sense and Sensibility (1995) - Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant

Yay! Jane Austen! It pleases me no end that almost every Austen novel has a fantastic film adaptation. Sense and Sensibility is not among my favorite of her novels, but this film is among my utmost favorites overall. The reason the movie version is so astounding is, quite simply, the cast. Everyone captured their character perfectly. Take Emma Thompson, a regular firebrand for example. She perfectly plays a rather tightly wound, risk-avoiding sister. Hugh Grant plays a seriously awkward guy, but manages to retain some charm (but in a different way from his usual). Look out for Hugh Laurie as an irritated husband! The
cinematography is amazing too.


3. Anne of Green Gables (1985) - Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth

This film and its sequel are perfect. Really by this point in the list, there is pretty much nothing bad I can say about these movies. They have taken excellent books and made movies that perfectly capture the novel, both in the plot, the characters, the look and the heart. With Anne of Green Gables, they really captured Anne. She is just as real and as much of a kindred spirit to the viewer as she is to the reader. This miniseries is worth the four hours anytime (and another four for the sequel!).

2. Pride and Prejudice (1995) - Starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle

Yeah, yeah. This is such an obvious choice. It's so in vogue to be obsessed with or hate P&P right now. I don't care. I have loved the book and the movie since my very first encounters with them and do not expect that to change. Ever. Colin Firth makes an excellent Darcy (and as one my college friends mentioned he is 'the sexy,' which certainly doesn't hurt). Jennifer Ehle, unlike some lip-puckering waifs I could mention, is a perfect Elizabeth. She exudes all of the charisma and spirit that Elizabeth has. This miniseries (only five hours...short right?) is almost perfect; there's a reason a number of the actors from the 2005 version imitated their predecessors.

1. A Room with a View (1985) - Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands and Maggie Smith

There is no way I can describe this film well enough to do it justice. Suffice it to say that this is my favorite film of all time (so far anyway). Everything is perfect. Especially the kiss scenes, which are some of the best you will find in pop culture anywhere. Promise. Warning: full male nudity.

When you see this, good things are soon to come. I wish my Italy trip was like this. :-p

P. S. Kelly at The Book Tarts also did a post on this earlier this week. Check it out for some completely different recommendations.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Roscoe said...

RE Howl's: DWJ - RIP.

March 30, 2011 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE <3 <3 <3 The movie and book are worlds different, but both so amazing!

Also: Twelfth Night is my very favourite play! I haven't seen that film adaptation, though. I saw a performance on PBS years ago with Helen Hunt and Paul Rudd (I was definitely okay with Paul Rudd as Duke Orsino) which I remember being good though... it's been a long time. Also my freshman year at Pitt the theatre department did it fabulously well AND that's when the Shakespeare's Globe company people did Twelfth Night in Pittsburgh which was (obviously) SO FREAKING GOOD. Plus the Globe's Duke Orsino was Scottish, and listening to a Scottish men talk on for hours is exactly my cup of tea.

March 30, 2011 at 11:36 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I haven't seen or read many on your list, but I absolutely love that most of them are British! Any list that has Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter on it multiple times, not to mention Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, is a good list. I now feel the need to watch more British mini-series.

Also, thanks for the shout-out!

March 31, 2011 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Owl In A Cloak said...

I really liked a Room With A View. It's one of my favourite book-to-movie movies. Even Les Miserables was very good. There's a remake coming this year with Hugh Jackman, Anna Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe and Helena Carter! I'm so excited!

For me, Schindler's List always takes the cake. It was so, so incredibly enthralled by it. I cry like a baby every time I watch it (I can't help it!). Spielberg did an AMAZING job with the movie (even though it's rather long).

April 10, 2012 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I've actually never seen Les Miserables or Schindler's List...I guess I should do that, although for the former I might wait for the new one, because that cast is astoundingly awesome. It's like they gathered up all of my favorite actors!

April 10, 2012 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger rachchan2006 said...

Absolutely loved Howl's Moving Castle, I've got the DVD somewhere downstairs. And yay Lord of the Rings! The Hobbit movie is FINALLY coming out later this year...

April 12, 2012 at 12:44 AM  

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