films that made it from the book shelf to the box office with credibility
EXPECTATIONS by CHARLES DICKENS
No film version
of Dickens has ever matched Lean’s superlative realisation
of Great Expectations. From the jumpy graveyard scene to the weirdness
of Satis House, and with actors such as John Mills and Alec Guinness
giving their all, there is no level at which this utterly brilliant
film doesn’t deliver.
HEIGHTS by EMILY BRONTË
gothic tale of moors madness gets the William Wyler treatment in
this classic movie version starring Merle Oberon as Cathy and Laurence
Olivier as Heathcliffe. None of the subsequent adaptations has matched
the dark power of the brilliant Wyler’s. Not even the one with
KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by HARPER LEE
The film of
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racist Alabama
deservedly won three Oscars, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck
as the lawyer Atticus Finch. Including a fictionalised version of
Lee’s friend Truman Capote, this compelling and important work
has lost none of its power since its release.
ZHIVAGO by BORIS PASTERNAK
snowy cinematic masterpiece starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie
and Alec Guinness brings to life the Nobel Prize-winner’s story
of revolutionary Russia with tremendous style. Although beaten to
1965’s Best Picture Oscar by The Sound of Music, this memorable
realisation honours all the emotional and political complexity of
Boris Pasternak’s original novel.
LEOPARD by GIUSEPPE TOMASI DI LAMPEDUSA
for its almost hour-long ballroom scene and glorious period detail,
Visconti’s epic filming of Lampedusa’s novel examines
the honour codes of a changing Italy with the help of a handsome
cast including Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. Spectacular,
long (originally running for 205 minutes) and good enough to eat.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by THOMAS HARRIS
psychological thriller is made horribly gruesome yet archly witty
in Demme’s 1991 blockbuster. Jodie Foster’s clever but
vulnerable Clarice Starling is the perfect counterpoint to Anthony
Hopkins’s terrifyingly competent murderer, and together they
redefine the traditional cop/killer dynamic.
LIAISONS (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) by PIERRE CHODERLOS
Frears’s 1988 bodice-ripper is the film of the play of the
book, but its tense elegance captures perfectly the spirit of Laclos’s
18th-century novel of sex and manipulation. The dying ancien regime
is represented by lethally sexy performances by Glenn Close and
John Malkovich, making this 118 minutes of pure wicked pleasure.
BIG SLEEP by RAYMOND CHANDLER
plot of Chandler’s detective story had screenwriter William
Faulkner turning to the original author for help. Even though audiences
still find it hard to negotiate its maze-like narrative, the real
point of the exercise is to showcase Lauren Bacall and Humphrey
Bogart at their simmering, sexy best.
39 STEPS (The Thirty Nine Steps) by JOHN BUCHAN
1915 adventure story for the screen was one of Hitchcock’s
earliest triumphs. Although considerably “sexed up” for
modern audiences, with a brace of comely heroines replacing the
original’s swarthy men, it is still a classic piece of pre-war
action cinema which retains all the tension of the novel.
PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by MURIEL SPARK
gives one of her finest performances as the ambitious teacher with
a coterie of adoring “gels”. Although diverging from Spark’s
popular 1961 novel in places, fans of the book tend to love the
film as well thanks to Neame’s taut direction and a fine supporting
by HERMAN MELVILLE
majestic novel of man versus beast is admirably served by Huston’s
adaptation. From Orson Welles’s priestly cameo to Gregory Peck’s
brilliantly unhinged Ahab, a fine cast is matched by an eerily bleached
cinematography. Even a rather ropy model whale cannot diminish the
power of this great film.
ROCK by GRAHAM GREENE
John and Roy Boulting
Terence Rattigan’s adaptation, done in partnership with the
novel’s author, Graham Greene, shocked critics with its hard-boiled
realism. A young Richard Attenborough excels as the odious Pinkie
in a crime drama that is worlds away from the slick American noirishness
cinemagoers were accustomed to in 1947.
by BRAM STOKER
is Dracula, since he seethed his way to stardom in Browning’s
1931 film. Necessarily cutting out some of Stoker’s extraneous
material, this genre-defining horror classic turned out far scarier
than the book. And any hopes Lugosi had of going on to play romantic
leads were cruelly dashed.