Films of favourite books

As a reader, I’m always book first, film after. In fact, many a book on my TBR list has been promoted up the order following the news it’s being filmed. As a writer, I’d like to think that order would be the case for the majority of my readers-to-be.

I got to wondering, how do you feel when the news breaks that a much loved book is going to become a film? Do you (like me) check the credentials of who’s involved, consider their body of past work when working out if it’s to be a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach, or a lift of hope? I know if the original author is still alive, I feel vastly reassured if they’re involved – the more actively, the better.

I’ll select two books from my list of 5-star reads to illustrate the size of the potential gulf.

TKAM film-1

To Kill A Mockingbird – Horton Foote’s screenplay was a faithful adaptation of the book and the director – Robert Mulligan – went on to become known for humanistic American dramas. That said, with such quality source material – a great story, told in a strong and clear first person voice – they were on to a winner, but luckily they didn’t tinker with it. It’s an ideal book to become a film – a human story, taking place in a small town over a relatively short time frame. Add a simply marvellous performance from Gregory Peck and you can’t lose. Unsurprisingly, both book and film are still regarded as classics.


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War – The strength of this work was the story of the steady and inexorable build-up to the Zombie War. Told as an ‘oral history’, it jumps around the globe following the spread, providing us with a window into how individual countries and communities react to the threat. There is genuine tension and a growing dread of the horrors to be faced. But the film focuses on just one segment of the whole and whilst I understand the entire book would’ve been impossible to film, it was a shame to focus on one man and his family – a white american, with powerful connections – so they could portray a successful outcome. The film was entirely run-of-the-mill as a result.


On then to the news that Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books are going to become a TV series. Optioned earlier this year by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s production company Stolen Picture, the good news is Aaronovitch serves both as executive producer and is penning the adaptation.  This news had me mentally yell “Yay!” before stopping to wonder how on earth they were going to manage it.

I’m pretty confident I’m not the only reader of this series to be wondering likewise. Back in 2015, before the series hit mega bestselling status, I attended an event with the author during which he positively chuckled while admitting his books would cause cause a serious headache to anyone attempting to film them. Previously a writer of screenplays, he spoke of being freed from the limitations of having always to keep in mind the practicality of filming any story – as he said, in a novel, its all in the mind of your reader. Magic aside, with London itself being almost as central a character as Peter Grant, the practicalities will present a considerable strain. In order to avoid spoilers for those who’ve yet to read the books, to fellow readers I’ll simply mention that scene in Covent Garden. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they manage it, for it needs to be truly spectacular if my imagination is anything to go by!

Do you have a view on the order of books vs films?  Have your much loved books been satisfactorily adapted to film/TV?  Are there books you’ve read which turned out better once transferred to celluloid?

© Debra Carey, 2019


16 thoughts on “Films of favourite books

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  1. I almost always like the book vs the movie, and I try to read the book before I see a movie. Movies always cut out too much for my taste

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  2. I’m now in a position to say that I know what you mean by the Covent Garden scene. I think it could be done – fantastically, brilliantly done – but it might not look like it did in the book. I found that with Good Omens. I really enjoyed the TV series, but there are some bits that are really quite different from the book. For the most part I’m OK with that! You’ve also made me think about Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The film was very different to the book, but then so was the TV series and actually the radio series was the original… I know someone who was very sniffy about the film, because it was different…

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  3. I consider a book and a movie to be two different mediums, therefore I don’t worry about how closely one follows the other. I can be pleased with either as long as it’s well written, has a plot, and leaves me feeling I haven’t wasted my time. I’m easy, I guess.

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  4. I am invariably disappointed with films of favourite books – and that includes tv adaptations. I realise that not every minor character can be included, and sometimes their dialogue needs to be given to someone else, but too much tampering ruins the film narrative for me. My horror examples are the Ian Carmichael adaptations of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories. To take just two examples: in ‘The Five Red Herrings’ it is inferred that the reason for the Scottish holiday is to allow Lord Peter’s manservant Bunter some painting time, and there is a wholly fictitious (within the Corpus!) conversation on the train north between them about Bunter’s forthcoming painting expeditions. In the book Bunter goes nowhere near a paint brush and, in fact is unusually almost invisible. In ‘The Nine Tailors’ there is (an again fictitious) prologue which has Lord Peter in Ruritanian military uniform at a party at the house in which the robbery takes place, the inference being that he knows the host well. In the book the first Lord Peter knows of the family and the robbery is after he takes a blind bridge too fast in a snowstorm and puts his car in a ditch. He is rescued by the local vicar and whilst staying there as his car is repaired he learns – for the first time! – the story of the robbery.

    To be fair to Ian Carmichael it was largely through his efforts that the stories were filmed at all but he was entirely the wrong person to play Lord Peter, which he did in a very Woosterish manner.

    On the other hand, I was delighted to learn that when Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter, some years later, were in ‘Gaudy Night’ they disagreed with the director’s views on how the final scene should be played. So they waited until he was out of the way and filmed it as they though it should be done, which was much closer to the book.

    Apologies! This is more a blog post than a comment! 🙂

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  5. I try seeing a film/TV adaptation after reading the book, although there have been exceptions – like Lord of the Flies as I saw Peter Brook’s brilliant film first.

    I was fearful of adaptations of my favourite book – The Lord of the Rings; especially after Ralph Bakshi’s terrible attempt. But Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures reassured me before seeing his spectacular trilogy – my vision of Middle Earth, and more.

    There are other good examples from David Lean’s Great Expectations to the recent Neil Gaiman scripted Good Omens, but I must stop. Except to mention The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – I’m reading the book and resisting watching the Netflix film; but I did watch the trailer. A fictional 84, Charing Cross Road?

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  6. Ah LA, delighted to see you share my ethos vis-a-vis books vs films. There have been discussions around films based on books where the film was better but having not read the original source material beforehand, I’ve been unable to comment, but can see how the germ of a good idea in an average book could be made into an excellent film.


  7. Hurrah David, you’ve joined the Rivers of London readers! 🙂 The person who introduced me to them didn’t read the last one for AGES and I was unable to talk to anyone about it for the longest time! I’m fairly pragmatic that a good job will be done – presumably with CGI – but more enjoyed the naughty twinkle in Aaronovitch’s eye as he thought of the person having to solve that problem with his works of fiction 😀 I got into a discussion with himself about this and cited the Harry Potter books/films saying even my pragmatism over how they couldn’t fit it all in was challenged by the different tacks taken on the primary characters by each director.

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  8. Ally, an attitude that has served you well, I’ve no doubt 🙂 and one I do try to channel. I largely manage to, with the proviso that I enjoy engaging in a discussion of how an adaptation has differed and what other choice could’ve been made. Not in a critical manner, more an open discussion throwing ideas about kinda way.


  9. Alan, you’ve now made me nervous over the time when I write a blog post myself on the subject when I finally finish my Lord Peter TBR build-up! That said, I couldn’t agree more with you about the making up of stuff. I’m sure the screenwriter would justify it as a useful device to get the story where it needed to be to assist with the film-making, but … really? Is that truly the case, or did they just fancy making changes to the story which they thought made it better? Love the story of the happenings in ‘Gaudy Nights’ filming 😀


  10. Roland, I do hope you enjoy both both book & film of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I did, although there was a considerable gap between each. I often feel a decent gap can help in the acceptance of potential differences – both actual & perceived. It did help me with Dr Zhivago, which I hated on first viewing as Shariff simply didn’t portray the central character as I’d seen him in my mind’s eye. A second viewing 10 years later was far more enjoyable 🙂

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  11. Debs, when you mention Doctor Zhivago. I realise how many films from books I’ve seen without reading the book – not intentional though. Pierre Boulie’s La planète des singes – which became Planet of the Apes; perhaps, we don’t always realise where the screenplay originated. Or my TBR pile doesn’t go down as easily as my viewing backlog. Still prefer reading the book first if I can.

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  12. I’m like you in that I get this very worried feeling when I hear a favorite book is about to be made into a movie. For instance, the best book I’ve read probably in the last 20 years is Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, and I’m already dreading whenever its made into a film. I loved the story so much that I fear it simply won’t be treated as well on screen. But hopefully I’ll be wrong (full disclosure: I have heard nothing about it being made into a movie!).

    My best example of a great book gone wrong for film was Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. I thought it was awful. – Marty

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  13. Roland, I’ve lost count of the number of films I’ve seen only to read on screen “based upon …” only to groan. I can’t deny that I rarely get back to read the book in those circumstances – unless it’s one which is already on my radar or the film was especially unusual/thought-provoking.

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  14. Marty, I’ve managed to avoid the Bonfire of the Vanities film so far. I think I’m safe now. I haven’t come across Pachinko before and will be heading off to check out its potential to add to my unweildy TBR list for any book which makes a person that passionate is well worth a look see.


  15. If I love a book, I am happy to see how the film/TV series turns out. I agree that To Kill A Mockingbird was a classic in its own right. I usually read the book first.

    I see that there is now a mini series of His Dark Materials, which I hope I will get to see. The trailers look good, and I think it will work better as a TV series than as films. There will be mor3 room to develop it.

    I am squeeing at the idea of a Rivers Of London series, but dammit, I want to know who is in it! I would be interested to see if the actor who reads the audiobooks is right for the role of Peter Grant. His voice is perfect for it!

    The only film version that made me truly angry was that Americanised version of The Dark Is Rising – one of my favourite novels ruined by a rotten script, and an American teenager instead of an 11 year old English boy. Not even Christopher Eccleston as the Rider could save it. I suspect it showed what would have happened to Harry Potter if J.K Rowling hadn’t stuck to her guns.

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  16. WPress notifications & I aren’t getting on well AT ALL! Sue, I’ve only just seen this …
    We’ve started to watch the series of His Dark Materials and I’ve got slightly mixed feelings. The first episode didn’t blow me away at all, but as it was largely scene setting, that’s not unexpected. The second is improving and I can feel the potential building. The series is certainly LOADS better than the film, but Himself who’s not read the books is struggling with it.

    I know what you mean about the casting of Peter Grant – it has to be right. That said, I’m confident that Aaronovitch will not let us down. Back to that same event, he expressed that he would not be flexible on the casting, especially in the area of race and gender.


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