Wednesday, 30 December 2009


M John Harrison's comments here on the recently screened BBC adaptation of Day of the Triffids (with which I heartily concur - I gave up in disgust after about twenty minutes) started me thinking. I admit this was an effort given the cold, an excess of chocolate, and days of wrestling with an intransigent manuscript and making no progress, but given also the excess of things televisual it was perhaps inevitable that I should ponder on the garbage served up as entertainment.

Some of this was just plain bad, but at least it was original. However, the constantly repeated films and adaptations that pad out the increasing number of channels made me start compiling a list.

Books I would like to see adapted faithfully. Are you listening screenwriters? We don't want you trying to 'make your mark'. We don't want your hang-ups aired using a classic like a clothes line to peg them out in a row. We don't want new characters slotted in because you think the original author just didn't get contemporary life (of course they didn't you total moron, they've been dead a century or more). We don't require new incidents to try to make the story [a] more interesting (if you thought it dull, why did you adapt it?) or [b] slot it into contemporary concerns.

A good book doesn't need you tinkering with it like that. A good book is either not suitable for adaptation, requires a genius to do that, or is suitable and ipso facto does not need changing, merely casting into script form.

Another recent travesty was the adaptation of Buchan's The Thirty-nine Steps. This is a short, pacy book, leavened with genuine wit and centred on an interesting character. He doesn't hang from a railway bridge or the face of Big Ben any more than he gets a girl in that book (you have to read some of the other Hannay books to find out what happens in that respect). So why put all that in?

Where, in Wyndham's Day of the Triffids does someone walk out of a crashed aircraft? Where in War of the Worlds does the central character acquire brats? If you are going to do all that sort of thing, why not a car chase in Pride and Prejudice? Why not a mad gunman going berserk in Dombey and Son? Why not a happy ending for Hamlet?

Faithful adaptations can be achieved. Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. I know not everyone likes these, but they are at least faithful.

So. Ten books I would like to see adapted faithfully (although frankly there are enough talented writers producing original screenplays to make you wonder why anyone actually bothers to adapt books in the first place):

1 - War of the Worlds - H G Wells
2 - Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
3 - The Kraken Wakes - John Wyndham
4 - The Drowned World - J G Ballard
5 - The Final Programme - Michael Moorcock
6 - The Borribles - Michael de Larrabeiti
7 - Mythago Wood - Robert Holdstock
8 - Bugs - John Sladek
9 - Mr Fortune's Maggot - Sylvia Townsend Warner
10 – Death And The Penguin – Andrey Kurkov

Some of those have been done before, and badly. Others (to my knowledge) haven’t. And although I have a soft spot for the film of Mary Poppins, I’d like to see that done true to the book as well.

Plus anything Arthurian using source texts and set in the Dark Ages. There’s enough mayhem, magic, and mucky bits there without having to go inventing all the crap you see. If you want to ring the changes on the Arthurian mythos you have to be a genius like T H White (and keep it out of the hands of Disney).


ChrisH said...

So true! (Loving the thought of that car chase in P&P!!).

Graeme K Talboys said...

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a television adaptation must be in want of a car chase.

Carol said...

I totally adored Death and the Penguin...would love to see that!!

C x

Graeme K Talboys said...

And perfect for adaptation as Kurkov doesn't anthropomorphise (much). Pelevin's 'Omon Ra' could be made to work well on screen, as well, I think.