The art of adaptation



Image of The One Ring by Pau Llopart Cervello from Pixabay

I am currently watching ‘The Rings of Power’ on Amazon Prime and enjoying it. The critics like the show but Tolkien fandom is, sadly, more divided. I won't explore the controversy in this post, but would like instead to explore how we feel about film and TV adaptations and how we would feel about our work being adapted, if that possibility ever came our way.

The ‘How to Tame Your Dragon’ film franchise is a huge box-office success. They are thoroughly charming films, with lovable characters and beautiful animation, but I am not sure how much resemblance they bear to the original – and incredibly successful - children’s books by Cressida Cowell. The author seems pleased with the success of the films, as well she might, and has talked about how she can accept that books and films are different media, and she doesn’t need a film adaptation to be exactly like the book.

That is very similar to my stance. Here are some of my favourite adaptations that I feel are mainly true to the spirit of the book, even if they take liberties with the text:

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film of Rebecca, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine – wonderfully atmospheric, faithful to Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, and a masterclass in filmmaking.

The 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which hardly needs an introduction due to its fame (and which I much prefer to the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley).

Ang Lee’s 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman.

The 1995 BBC adaptation of Persuasion, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Possibly the best ever adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.

The 1996 BBC TV adaptation of Jane Eyre, starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. There are so many versions of Jane Eyre. This, in my opinion, is the finest of them all.

Peter Jackson’s LotR film trilogy, which again needs no introduction. I love the films for their majestic, immersive nature, their wonderful cast and crew and their superb production values. The films are overall faithful to Tolkien’s great saga in tone and feel and are very obviously a passion project. As a Tolkien fan, I am deeply grateful for them: I do, however, have issues with some of the characterisations and writing. I don’t mind changes from a beloved book when those changes make sense. Character assassination is something else entirely.

So let’s say we are all world-famous, bestselling novelists. We can all dream, can’t we? Every writer has dreams.

Would you sell film rights for your book?

On what terms would you sell those rights? For ‘Art or Cash’, to quote Tolkien himself, when he sold the film rights to The Lord of the Rings in 1969 in order to pay off a tax bill (for a mere £10,000)?

Would you be tolerant of changes made to your story and your characters? Are you of the same mindset as Cressida Cowell, whose books have sold in their millions, who is relaxed about the changes made to her story?

Who would you pick to play your characters if you had the power to do so?

Who would you like to compose the score?

And what are some of YOUR favourite book-to-film adaptations?



I am the administrator for the education and learning department of the United Reformed Church. I am also an Anglican lay minister. I wrote a devotional for the anthology Light for the Writer’s Soul published by Media Associates International, and my short story ‘Magnificat’ appears in the ACW Christmas anthology Merry Christmas Everyone.

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