Books to TV Adaptations

It’s a consolation that no matter how crazy the world spins, one can always retreat into books for respite. And film adaptations, when done well, can double the enjoyment. And now, there are TV mini series.

As if you need more suggestions to read this fall, here are some titles that are in various stages of development, but this time, not on the big screen but for TV. TV looks to be the next great realm to conquer, for even A-list movie stars and directors have started to cross over. It’s not surprising then that more books are being turned into TV miniseries.*

Here are a few upcoming titles:

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton


The 2013 Man Booker Prize winning novel is to be made into a six-part BBC drama series. Author Catton will be writing the adaptation herself. Six parts to put the 832 page book into perspective. Set in the New Zealand gold rush era, the Victorian mystery tale is a first for Catton in TV writing. Other than the longest book to win the Booker Prize, Catton is also the youngest winner at 28.
A thriller, suspense, with lots of characters and stories during the 19th C. New Zealand gold rush; sounds like a wealth of materials to turn into a TV miniseries.


The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist.jpg
BBC loves suspense thrillers. Here’s another one. The Miniaturist is British actress Jessie Burton’s debut novel that had sold over 1 m copies in 37 countries. Set in 17th C. Amsterdam, the story looks like a version of the movie Crimson Peak. A young bride married to a merchant trader is left in his huge mansion alone with his sister most of the time. Her wedding gift is a cabinet-sized replica of their home. A miniaturist comes in to create the items of the mansion in smaller, parallel version. Secrets begin to unveil as the miniature house takes shape. Sounds eerie.



We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler



On this side of the Atlantic, we too have the Book into TV kind of phenom. HBO is turning Karen Joy Fowler’s Booker shortlisted, PEN/Faulkner Award winning novel into a miniseries. Now this one I’ve read, and I admit it’s quite incredulous a story. Natalie Portman is to produce and star and is ready to create a sisterly bond with a chimpanzee as they grow up together in the same home. That’s the storyline, but do they now have to train a chimp to star with her?



American Gods by Neil Gaiman


Gaiman fans rejoice. A new TV series to come in 2017 based on his multiple award-winning fantasy American Gods, with the author writing the episodes. Gaiman is prolific in various realms and no stranger to TV productions. Many will likely remember his Coraline, turned into the Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature Film in 2010. For TV, there are Dr. Who, Lucifer, Eternals and his short stories into miniseries. Now American Gods, old mythological super beings challenged by modern day gods in America; they exist as people believe in them. Their names: Media, Technology, Internet, …


Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood


Canada will not be left behind. Our own wonder woman Sarah Polley, actress and director, is adapting the work of another prominent Canadian, Margaret Atwood. Alias Grace will be a six-hour miniseries to air on CBC-TV and Netflix. Polley’s previous adaptation of a short story by Alice Munro, retitled Away From Her, brought her an Oscar nom for Best Adapted Screenplay (2008). Alias Grace is in good hands then. Historic fiction inspired by a 19th c. double murder, the story is about a maid named Grace Marks who was convicted, had spent 30 years in prison, and finally exonerated.




Are you aware of other book to TV adaptations? Do fill me in and expand this list.

* See ‘Comments’ for clarification.


Reviews of Adaptations on Ripple Effects (for a complete list, click here):

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Brooklyn: From Book to Film

Life of Pi

Never Let Me Go

Away From Her

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?

Read Some Possible Oscar Contenders

Emphasis on the ‘possible’. At this point of the race, some films have not been released other than screened in Film Festivals. The frontrunner so far is 12 Years A Slave. And then there are the rest, some long shots, some longer. But I’d like to include them on this list because I want to draw your attention to the books which inspire these film adaptations.

How come Gravity isn’t here? You ask. It’s a frontrunner too. Yes. But, ah… find me the book first. No book? Maybe because it’s much easier to pass you the 3D glasses.

Here’s a list of fall/winter reading to gear up for the upcoming Awards Season.

12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup

12 Years a Slave copyThe movie adaptation directed by Steve McQueen is TIFF13 People’s Choice Award winner. From past years, this accolade is a good predictor of Oscar wins. Based on the real life story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in Upstate New York who was kidnapped into slavery in Louisiana. For twelve years he suffered in the hands of several masters. First published in 1853, the book is Northup’s first-person accounts of slavery in 19th C. America, noteworthy for its historical value and poignancy. The actor Chiwetel Ejiofor a likely Oscar Best Actor nom for his role as Solomon Northup. You can download the whole book in its original form here.

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

August Osage CountyThe play won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Members of a dysfunctional family inevitably come together after tragedy strikes. The stage production was described by the NYT as ‘a fraught, densely plotted saga of an Oklahoma clan in a state of near-apocalyptic meltdown’. Before you see how the A-list cast interpret their roles on screen, maybe reading the play is rewarding since you get to experience the story first hand before being influenced by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor…

The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

The Monuments MenI’ve mentioned this title in a previous post. Now I’ve got the book in my hands. The true but untold story of how a group of rescuers called the Monuments Men in war-torn Europe saved  art and artifacts from the Nazi’s. In the introduction of the book, the author writes: “Hitler and the Nazis pulled off the ‘greatest theft in history’, seizing and transporting more than five million cultural objects to the Third Reich.” George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Hugh Bonneville (so Lord Grantham finally gets the chance to go into the battlefield).

A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Philips

A Captain's Duty..Another likely contender that has been getting a lot of buzz is this thriller starring Tom Hanks, based on Captain Richard Phillips’ real life ordeal in the hands of Somali pirates. A lawsuit will begin in a few weeks filed by the crew of the ship Maersk Alabama against the shipping company for sending them to pirate-infested waters unprepared. They also claim the Captain was at fault in the case. Their attorneys had set up a Webpage to clarify the truths from the fiction. A turbulent epilogue to the real life adventure on high seas.

The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

The Lost Child of Philomena Lee copyJudi Dench could get a possible Best Actress Oscar nomination with her role as Philomena Lee. In her youth as an unwed mother, Philomena was sent to the convent of Roscrea, Limerick, her baby taken away and ‘sold’ to America for adoption. As she became an adult, Philomena was determined to search for her lost child. I missed this at TIFF13. Maybe an Oscar nomination for Dench could raise the prospect of it being screened in our theatres.


‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’ by Alice Munro

Hateship-Friendship-Courtship-Loveship-Marriage-book-cover copyWith Alice Munro garnering the newest top honor as Nobel Laureate, hopefully the film adaption of this short story with a shorter title Hateship, Loveship will receive a wider release. It has been a long while since Away From Her (2006). The film receives positive feedbacks at TIFF13. A good cast with Kristen Wiig (Best Actress and Best Original Screenwriting Oscar noms for Bridesmaids), Guy Pearce (The King’s Speech), Hailee Seinfeld (True Grit), Nick Nolte (too many to name).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber (Click on link to read the story online.)

The Secret Life of Walter MittyInteresting to see another film adaptation of a short story. This one I have a feeling that it’s very loosely based on Thurber’s character Walter Mitty, considering it’s a Ben Stiller movie. I’m sure many have read this story in school, time to reread just to get the Walter Mitty psyche, then go and check out the Ben Stiller ride. Other than Stiller, there are Kristen Wiig (again, in two short story film adaptations the same year), Sean Penn (can you imagine?), Shirley MacLaine.

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

The Wolf of Wall Street copyCoincidence that Leonardo DiCaprio jumps from being Jay Gatsby to Jordan Belfort, the real life fraud on Wall Street, notorious for his highflying lifestyle and his operating a boiler room brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. A multimillionaire at 26, he was later indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering but only served 22 months in federal prison. The Wolf of Wall Street is his unabashedly candid memoir. Martin Scorsese directs with DiCaprio touted as a likely contender in the Best Actor Oscar category.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief copyNo Oscar buzz around this one, but a look at the movie trailer, I know I want to see it. Yes, mainly because of Geoffrey Rush I admit. And also, Brian Percival… ring a bell? Director of Downton Abbey. The film will be released in November, a time slot where contenders are placed. So, you can say it’s a long, long shot for, who knows, maybe Geoffrey Rush, or Emily Watson? I admit I still haven’t read this very popular YA title. I’d like to do that before watching the film. Is this one on your movie viewing radar?


Do We Need A Rebecca Remake? Another Grapes of Wrath?

In a previous post Summer Reading and Future Viewing I listed some upcoming movie adaptations of literary works, among them are Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, incidentally both are Steven Spielberg’s projects.

The earlier adaptations of these two titles had since become classics. Released in 1940, both films shared the limelight in the 1941 Academy Awards. Rebecca won Best Picture and Best Cinematography while John Ford won Best Director for The Grapes of Wrath, and Best Supporting Actress went to Jane Darwell as Ma Joad.

From the comments in that post, it’s interesting to see the ripples from loyal fans of these two classic films. They want to say no thank-you to Mr. Spielberg. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine as Maxim and the new Mrs. de Winter had left an indelible mark in their movie memories which no one else can replace, nor the stern and creepy Mrs. Denvar. Alfred Hitchcock would have been most pleased.

Joan Fontaine & Laurence OlivierLikewise, Henry Fonda owned the role of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. And, who can match Jane Darwell as the Joad family pillar, Ma, who won an Oscar Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

Family Joad in The Grapes of Wrath

Fond memories aside, a remake could reap some benefits if placed in the right hands. The Great Gatsby is a good example, and it’s not even in perfect hands. But we’ve all witnessed the fanfare, just the buzz of a major movie production can do much to turn a school text into a bestseller.

With the first trailer of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation released in April, The Great Gatsby had sold more copies than Fitzgerald could ever have imagined. The hype had sent it to the top of Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s sales in both print and eBooks. The title on Kindle had outsold all its paperback. And this even before the movie was released in May. BTW, The book sold less than 25,000 in Fitzgerald’s life time, and he considered himself a failure. If he had known of the Gatsby ripples and splashes half a century later, he would have died a happier man.

A movie adaptation today can be the best promotion for a literary work. If the movie is done well, so much the better. If it’s not, viewers would at least be driven to seek the truth. Is the book that bad? Hopefully they would read to find out. These two new adaptations being produced by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks could mean a certain level of standard.

Rebecca Movie PosterThe Grapes of Wrath PosterFor both Rebecca and The Grapes of Wrath, no big screen adaptations had been done since their 1940 productions, so a contemporary remake can be an appealing venture. A modern day take on an old story can refresh it for a new generation of viewers. Come to think of it, how many of today’s Twilight audience have seen Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine on screen, big or small? Or even heard of them? Alfred Hitchcock would be more well known among viewers today, but probably because of Psycho rather than Rebecca.

A genre like Rebecca is popular nowadays… Suspense à la romance with a touch of Gothic noir. Manderley can be an interesting set to view with modern cinematic rendering and technology. What more, the latest is that Dreamworks has hired Danish writer/director Nikolaj Arcel to helm the new version. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). Arcel is co-writer of that original Danish screenplay. You see, he doesn’t need to walk in Hitchcock’s shadow. He only needs to stalk to his own tune. It will be interesting to see his interpretation of du Maurier’s book.

As for The Grapes of Wrath, with its depictions of poverty, the plight of the migrant workers, social and economic disparity, Steinbeck’s 1939 Depression era classic can be a timely and relevant film today. We won’t get back the authentic view of the drought-cracked landscape from Oklahoma (the film was made just one year after the book was published) and follow the Joad family’s beat-up truck sputtering on Route 66, leaving deprivation behind to press on towards a land of elusive dreams, California. I can see the new version inundated with CGI’s fabricating the exact opposite of what we see in The Great Gatsby. But Steinbeck’s story can and should remain intact, regardless of the styling, for its timelessness.

Further, remakes don’t have to be exact modern replicas of their older cinematic versions. Actually, better that they break away from previous adaptations to offer a fresh look, a relevant take for today’s viewers, and entertain with some present-day nuances and humor. An excellent example is the recent Shakespearean remake of Much Ado About Nothing by Joss Whedon, shot in his own Santa Monica home with swimming pool, stuffed toys, wine glasses and smart phones.

Let’s release our hold on these two classic films and come back to the future. I’m most curious to see the new adaptations. Who do you think are the best pair to play Maxim and the young and innocent Mrs. De Winter? My choice would be Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. What about Tom and Ma Joad for The Grapes of Wrath?


Some updates on book to film:

Ben Stiller directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty based on the famous short story by James Thurber. The film will be the Centerpiece Gala at the NYFF later this fall and with that, Oscar buzz.

Another classic to be adapted will be Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Mia Wasikowska will transform from Jane Eyre to Emma Bovary. Paul Giamatti also in. Here’s the link to IMDb’s page.