From Page to Screen

From Page to Screen

Vineetha Mokkil

Senior editor, fiction writer, traveller. Author of the short story collection "A Happy Place and Other Stories" (April 2014). Enjoys writing fiction and editing non-fiction. Mostly finds the truth stranger than fiction.
August 14, 2015

When I hear that a book I like is going to be turned into a movie my first response is: why mess with perfection? As we all know (from our experience of watching movie avatars of our favourite books) there is a high chance of the nuances of a book getting lost in the bombast of the silver screen. Many a time, you end up tearing your hair out and leave the multiplex swearing to shoot the director in the head. Like other booklovers, I take this business very seriously. It hurts when a movie plays fast and loose with a book. Having to suffer a lousy adaptation can leave you scarred for life. However, the joy of watching films that do justice to your favourite novel or short story is special. There is no word in the English language to describe this feeling adequately. “All is right with the world”, is the line that rings out in my ears when I get to watch one of these. Here's a list of ten “book-to-film adaptations” – in no particular order – that always makes my day.

Films based on books


1. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje/Anthony Minghella)

Minghella captures the essence of Ondaatje's masterpiece with perfect artistry. The visuals are seeped in the magic of Ondaatje's lyrical prose, the cast is a revelation; the film resonates with the intensity of love and war, and the inevitable tragedy of both.

2. The Hours (Michael Cunningham/Stephen Daldry)

Cunningham's brilliant homage to Virginia Woolf comes alive on screen with moments of luminous intensity and grace. The stories of three women, set in three different time frames, blend into a seamless whole in the finely crafted screenplay.

3. Atonement (Ian McEwan/Joe Wright)

McEwan's sprawling war novel gets an unforgettable screen makeover from director Joe Wright. Deftly crafted, the personal and the political find their rightful place in the film to raise eternal questions about the human condition.

4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera/Philip Kaufman)

Kundera's layered, reflective novel is not an easy challenge for directors to take on. Kaufman not only sinks his teeth into it but also pulls off the screen version with panache. Politics – sexual and otherwise – has rarely set the screen on fire with such style and substance.

5. Blade Runner (Philip K Dick/Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott's film adaptation of Philip K Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is a cult classic. Gritty and visually stunning, the film raises questions about human identity and memory in an increasingly dystopian world.

6. Brokeback Mountain (Annie Proulx/Ang Lee)

In a rare case of a writer being happy with a film adaptation, Proulx once described herself as the only writer in America whose work made it to the screen “entire and whole.” Ang Lee's subtle, lyrical directorial style is a perfect fit for Proulx's story about the relationship between two men who are forced to keep their sexuality under wraps in the conservative 60s.

7. The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith/Anthony Minghella)

Minghella uses precise and beautifully crafted cinematic language to bring Patricia Smith's taut psychological thriller to the screen. The film, set in spectacular Italy, is a visual treat. The cast does an extraordinary job and every shot simmers with deep, dark undercurrents of feeling that add up to a chilling whole.

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver/Lynne Ramsey)

With its uncanny topical references to a fictional school massacre and the specter of violence haunting our everyday lives, Shriver's novel is a brilliant read. Ramsey channels its raw energy and bitterness to craft a cinematic masterpiece. Just like the novel, the film bravely takes on uncomfortable questions that a family – and modern civilization face – as we hurtle forward at breakneck speed.

9. The Hunger Games – 2012 (Suzanne Collins/Gary Ross)

Gary Ross stays faithful to Suzanne Collins' young adult novel in the first installment of the movie. Fidelity pays off in this case – the film is as gripping as the novel and the cast gives it their all as the games begin.

10. We Bought A Zoo (Benjamin Mee/Cameron Crowe)

In directingWe Bought A Zoo,loosely based on Benjamin Mee's memoirs of the same name, Cameron Crowe creates a heartwarming film that is hard to forget. The story of a family in crisis looking to rebuild its broken world with slow, unsure steps is told with deep sympathy and understanding. Crowe never slips into the trap of mushy sentimentality and saddles us with a tearjerker.


Illustration: Bharti Karakoti

DK books on cinema & literature


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