The Personal History of David Copperfield: From Book to Film

In a previous post I reviewed The Goldfinch, one of two literary adaptations on my list to watch while I was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. The Personal History of David Copperfield is the other one, which also had its world premiere at TIFF; it represents a totally different approach to bringing a literary work to the big screen.

If The Goldfinch is an example of a traditional way of adaptation, striving at loyalty to the literary source while overlooking cinematic elements, David Copperfield is a brave venture out wielding post-modern strokes, not that it is changed into a contemporary setting, but that it is adapted with a modern-day zeitgeist. Here’s director Armando Iannucci’s rationale during a TIFF interview: Just as Dickens wrote David Copperfield reflecting life and society of his time, as a filmmaker today, he directs the adaptation through a frame of our time. 

David Copperfield
Dev Patel as David Copperfield. Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFF19

What stands out in such post-modern filmmaking is the ‘colour-blind casting’ of the production. David Copperfield is played by Dev Patel, a young British actor of Indian descent. Known for his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Patel has established a popular screen presence with a charisma that whisked him through many subsequent successful features such as the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011, 2015) and Lion (2016). Other non-white actors taking up main roles include Benedict Wong (Avengers: Endgame, 2019) as Mr. Wickfield, Rosalind Eleazar (Howards End, 2017) as Agnes and Nikki Amuka-Bird (The Children Act, 2017) as Mrs. Steerforth. It is a bold statement Iannucci is making: skin colour is not an issue. These talents are first and foremost, actors.

Iannucci indicated that he’d always have Patel in mind ever since he watched Lion (2016), a true story about an Indian boy separated from his older brother in a Calcutta train station and later sent away for adoption in Australia. Twenty-five years later, after a long search, he finally located and reunited with his mother in an Indian village. Watching Patel in Lion, Iannucci thought, that’s David Copperfield for him. Indeed, Dickens’s character David Copperfield could well be a metaphor for those who had suffered much in childhood and yet against all odds, have survived and grown up to be resilient and compassionate human beings.

The adaptation exudes energy and humour. Iannucci has chosen his cinematic palette with bright colours and sprinkled with comedic sparks. Surely, Dickens’s Copperfield has a sad upbringing, orphaned after his beloved mother dies young, and mistreated by his stepfather Mr. Murdstone and his sister Jane Murdstone, later having had to fend for himself as a child labourer at the ripe age of 12. Yet Dickens’s humour never fades. His light-hearted depiction of Aunt Betsey Trotwood or Mr. Micawber offer some hilarious characterization. Later, David’s brave and arduous escape to seek the shelter of Aunt Betsey turns his life around. The autobiographical fiction could well represent Dickens’s view that, in the midst of misfortunes and human pathos, there still lies a deeper essence, and that’s the joy of life. Iannucci deftly capitalizes this inherent quality in the the author’s writing and adorns his film with humour and jollity.

Here’s a note on Wikipedia on Armando Iannucci that I find interesting: “Born in Glasgow to Italian parents, Iannucci studied at the University of Glasgow followed by the University of Oxford, leaving graduate work on a D.Phil about John Milton to pursue a career in comedy.” I’m sure the story about his academic pursuit and career change entail more than just this one line can say, but that’s enough to give us the background of who’s bringing David Copperfield to the screen now. Iannucci is the creator and writer of the award-winning TV series Veep (2012-2019), the Oscar nominated political satire In the Loop (2009), and the dark comedy The Death of Stalin (2017), for which he won Best Director and Best Writer at BAFTA.

To those wary about the lack of seriousness, the superb cast is poised to deflect such criticisms. Tilda Swinton (Oscar winner Michael Clayton, 2007) as Betsey Trotwood and Hugh Laurie (Golden Globe Best Actor The Night Manager, House) as Mr. Dick are the anchors that complement Patel’s spirited performance. They are pivotal in transferring Dickens’s moral insights onto screen. Aunt Betsey’s kindness towards Mr. Dick, who in today’s term would be one stricken with mental illness, is a lesson in example, influencing David’s mutual friendship with him. The same with David’s support and acceptance of Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family while they are in dire financial distress. If we need a villain, Ben Whishaw’s Uriah Heep is there to show vividly the face of hypocrisy and the consequence of jealousy and deceit.

Such a light handling of the classic novel has its weakness naturally. While the moral lesson of good over evil still stands, David’s growing insights about love, life, and faith which Dickens writes about so eloquently have not been transferred onto screen as successfully. It is unfortunate that the movie does not elaborate on the effects of David’s misplaced adulations of Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard, The Goldfinch, 2019) nor does it focus on his awakening to the fervency Agnes has for him. David’s blindspot and Agnes’s hidden love for him would have made a poignant storyline. Nevertheless, the two eventually do come together, but just as a coda, with Dora (Morfydd Clark, Love & Friendship, 2016) getting the inkling of a mismatch between herself and the emerging writer to gracefully step aside, sparing David the deathbed scene from the book.

Overall, the adaptation is a joy to watch, and one of those films that I’d like to rewatch. It has just been screened at London Film Festival in early October, release dates in North America unknown. The casting might pose an issue for some, but it just may be another object lesson for today.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

The Goldfinch

Lion

Love & Friendship

 

Reading the Season: Silence by Shusaku Endo

Click for ‘Silence’ movie review and thoughts.

For this year’s Reading the Season, I’ve chosen Shusaku Endo’s masterpiece Silence. Unlike previous years, it’s not as pleasing and exulting a read at Christmas time.  Rather, it’s unsettling and disturbing. It will interfere with your festive mood. It presents an excruciating dilemma that we hope we may never need to confront, and a question that more likely for us to face: Where is God during our suffering?

silence

Why so unpleasant a read at this time? We’re all busy with our festivities. Who would want to think about such a somber question? Director Martin Scorsese thinks it’s seasonal; Dec. 23 is the day his adaptation of Silence will be released in North America. Mind you, before showing here, it will first premiere at the Vatican. What a diversion of Christmas over there.

Thanks to Scorsese, I dug out Endo’s book and reread it. This time around, it’s even more disturbing for me. However, I also see the light seeping through the cracks of a broken human scene. I sure hope Scorsese’s film — twenty-five years brewing in the director’s heart — can lead to some quiet meditation amidst the cacophony bombarding us these days.

Historical Note

First off, very crucial before reading Silence is to establish a frame of reference; this is furnished by the Historical Note at the beginning of the book. Christianity was introduced to Japan by Francis Xavier in 1549. It was very well received at that point, despite an expulsion order later in 1587 by the Shogun Hideyoshi and the subsequent crucifixion of twenty-six Japanese Christians and European missionaries. By 1600, there were an estimated 300,000 Christian converts living in Japan.

By the time the second expulsion order was issued in 1614, however, the Christian Church in Japan was driven underground. Warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu was resolute in wiping out all traces of Christianity that from 1614 to 1640, an estimated five to six thousand Christians were killed. He later found out martyrdom wasn’t as effective an eradication measure as forced apostasy, especially with leaders of the faith, so torture was widely used towards that end.

crucifixion

In 1632, the Catholic world was shocked to learn that the stalwart leader of the Jesuits mission in Japan, Father Christovao Ferreira, had disavowed his faith and become an apostate after being tortured at ‘the pit’ in Nagasaki. No news of him came after that.

Upon this setting Endo begins his story. The historical novel describes the journey of one fervent young priest from Portugal, Father Sebastian Rodrigues, who has had the privilege to be taught and mentored by Father Ferreira years before. Upon hearing Ferreira’s apostasy, and with the reluctant approval of the Jesuit Superior, Rodrigues and fellow priest Father Francisco Garrpe board a ship and sail all the way to Japan to look for their beloved teacher and to investigate the situation. They have been forewarned, the magistrate Inoue is ruthless.

While still on the ship, the priests encounter Kichijiro, a sly, cowardly, and ambiguous figure who later will wade on shore ahead to guide them to some hidden Christians. For a while, the two Fathers have to hide themselves in a hut on a mountain during the day, and minister to the needs of Japanese believers who, despite the danger, come to seek them out for spiritual matters at night.

Later Kichijiro leads them to a nearby island to meet with more hidden believers. To the welcoming relief of the villagers, the fathers secretly conduct mass and baptism despite the risks. The evasive Kichijiro hangs around like a phantom nemesis.

The people suffer greatly under the rule of magistrate Inoue, yes, that Inoue who Rodrigues was forewarned. He extracts from the poor peasants harsh revenues and infuse the utmost fear into those of the Christian faith with his deathly measures. Rodrigues observes that “The persecutions of Christians make their faces expressionless. They cannot register on their faces any sorrow —nor even joy. The long years of secrecy have made the faces of these Christians like masks. This is indeed bitter and sad.”

Never before has Rodrigues felt so deeply about the meaningfulness of his mission:

“… like water flowing into dry earth … For the first time they have met men who treated them like human beings. It was the human kindness and charity of the fathers that touched their hearts.”

But such a firm conviction begins to shatter when Rodrigues comes closer and closer to the reality of persecution. No, not just of his own, but those of the Japanese peasants, his flock. Many are faithful to the end. When discovered, they would be tied on trees in the shape of a cross at the seashore, the rising tide slowly consumed their bodies after two or three days.

The ultimate punishment is ‘the pit’. Believers are tied up and suspended upside down above a pit. Blood would flow out of their eyes, ears, nose and the slits on the neck. They would be literally drip dry into a slow death through several days.

fumieA way out of such torture is to trample on the fumie. The fumie is a wooden plaque with a copper plate on which the image of Christ was artfully engraved. A person’s willingness to trample on the fumie is Inoue’s way of testing if one belongs to the outlawed Christian religion. It is also a convenient way to turn a believer into an apostate upon the threat of torture and death. One only needs to put one’s foot on the fumie, trample or even just step on it, then one can be released immediately, a most easy and convenient ‘formality’ to show one’s denunciation of faith. This was what happened to Father Ferriera.

The officials would say: “I’m not telling you to trample with sincerity and conviction. This is only a formality. Just putting your foot on the thing won’t hurt your convictions.”

To a believer, this may sound like a temptation, or self-deception. Or, is it a necessary choice to survive?

In this historically based novel, Shusaku Endo (1923 – 1996), a Japanese Catholic, paints a vivid picture of the crisis of faith in the face of extreme suffering, the doubts that often lie hidden even in the most devout. In the midst of persecutions, where is God? Why is He silent?  Endo is not depicting so much about the hubris of foreign missionaries coming with the hope and optimism to preach and convert, but just the opposite, he has exposed the lowest state a believer, let alone a priest, can possibly experience, the utter humiliation of being the one to denounce and betray his God, albeit under duress.

The duress is horrific indeed. The priest sees no glorious martyrdom but is witness to unbearable torture of these peasants. For several nights, the screams and moans of five Christian villagers accompany him in his sleepless nights. Father Rodrigues is thus being dragged into the ultimate dilemma: He only needs to place his foot on the fumie and all five of these suffering peasants will be released right away.

In a court of law, a statement or action made under duress cannot stand as evidence to lay blame, as the subject is under threat and coercion like Father Rodrigues is here. But in the court of the priest’s conscience, it is an ironclad verdict: Apostasy!

As he is struggling with this painful dilemma, trample on it and denounce his faith or five peasants will be suspended in the pit till death, Father Rodrigues seems to encounter an epiphany. Seeing the well-trodden, blacken face of the Christ image on the fumie, the priest hears a voice breaking through the silence:

“‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’

The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew.”

Indeed, the allusion to Peter’s denial of Christ three times before the cock crows points to Christ’s forgiveness, the light that sheds through the cracks of human failure. After his denial, Peter later served his Lord with transformed fervency and love. Yes, even the Rock, upon whom the Church was to be built, had once denied Christ.

When I first read Silence a few years ago I could not accept Rodrigues’s action. This time around, I’ve come to see that Endo is not discussing theology here, but depicting an imaginary scenario. In the darkest hour of a believer’s journey—likely Endo’s own as well—when a devout is entrapped in an excruciating dilemma like being suspended in the deep pit of spiritual conflicts, Endo draws our attention to the response of a compassionate Christ.

As to the seeming silence of God, Endo lets us hear these internal dialogues:

‘Lord, I resented your silence.’
‘I was not silent. I suffered beside you.’

At the humble manger some two thousand years ago, God had spoken, with a birth that pierced the darkness of that silent night.

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Reading the Season of Christmas Past:

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

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Books to the Big Screen

Here are a few Book to Movie Adaptations that I look forward to. Some are already in theatres, others will come later this year, poised for the Awards Season. Still others have just been announced or in the early stage of development.

Arrival

arrival

Already arrived in theatres, acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario, 2015) first sci-fi feature that’s gaining buzz as this year’s award hopeful. Seems like every year we have one of those, like Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), and The Martian (2015). Alien arrival to planet Earth isn’t a new topic, but communicating with aliens in a cerebral, linguistic framework, with a female leading role is a first. Amy Adams plays linguist Dr. Louise Banks, moved to translate. What interests me most though is that the movie is based on a short story, “Story of Your Life” by the award-winning sci-fi writer Ted Chiang. From short story to the big screen will be a future post on Ripples soon. I’ve been reading quite a few to catch up.

 

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals.jpgAmy Adams is on a roll. She has been in recent years. With five Oscar noms and yet to win, will this coming Awards Season end the drought? A movie based on a novel of a novel. Right, and that real novel is Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan. Exactly, probably that’s why director Tom Ford changed it to this current title for his movie. Amy Adams plays an art gallery director troubled by her ex-husband’s novel, which she thinks is a revenge tale on her. Intriguing storyline. Jake Gyllenhaal plays her ex. Director Tom Ford won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice Film Festival this year. Not bad considering this is only his second feature in directing. His first? He led Colin Firth to the actor’s first Oscar nom in A Single Man (2009).

 

Silence

silenceI’ve just reread this novel by Japanese writer Shûsaku Endô (1923-1996). This time it’s even more disturbing. In 17th C. Japan, a sadistic governor was determined to eradicate Christianity by turning devout Jesuits missionaries into apostates. His methods were ruthless and unimaginable, making waterboarding look like squirting with a water gun. Endô, a Catholic, had written a thought-provoking masterpiece, bringing out the unanswerable Question: Why is God silent in the midst of insufferable torments of his own? And now, the film adaptation by none other than Martin Scorsese, also a Catholic. I’ve a feeling that I need to gird myself for some tormenting scenes. But I just can’t resist that cast: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver. Also, screenplay adaptation by Jay Cocks, two times Oscar nominee for his writing, The Age of Innocence (1993) adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel, and original script Gangs of New York (2002).

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And now, to some announcements of future adaptations. Looks like F. Scott Fitzgerald is on a roll too. The Great Gatsby (2013) isn’t too distant a memory and now two upcoming features with prominent actors:

 

Zelda

Zelda.jpgFilm is inspired by Nancy Milford’s bio of Zelda Fitzgerald, a finalist for the Pulitzer and National Book Award when it first came out in 1970. Please note it’s not Z by Therese Anne Fowler as I first thought. So I read the wrong book and now I need to find Milford’s Zelda. I want to, for I trust an acclaimed biographer to tell me the ‘true’ story. Zelda and F. Scott’s situation is such an intriguing scenario: Can a couple with the same professional pursuit still be a loving pair and not rivals? Especially in the Jazz Age, where men dominated all scenes and women were but ornate “flappers” in parties, and yes, even as muses. Jennifer Lawrence is Zelda, Ron Howard directing. Sounds like a promising production.

 

The Beautiful and the Damned

The Beautiful and the Damned.jpg

That’s the name of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald whose married life with Zelda isn’t too far off from the characters in the book. Whether the film is an adaptation of the book, or just use the book title as the film title to tell the real story of Scott and Zelda is yet to be seen. Either way, it is one tumultuous marriage amidst the glamour of the Jazz Age. The movie is said to be in development, not much else is announced  except that Zelda is going to be another A-lister: Scarlett Johansson. For those interested in reading the book first, you have lots of time to catch up on the lives of Scott and Zelda, as well as this book.

 

 

 

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar.jpg

 

For her directorial debut, Kirsten Dunst has picked Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I’d say, a challenging book to be adapted into film, albeit dramatic. Dakota Fanning will play Esther Greenwood, the coming-of-age story that leads her all the way to the border of madness. A heavy and difficult novel to handle as a directorial debut. But I’m sure Kirsten Dunst has her reason for picking Sylvia Plath’s famous work. Could this be the ripple effects of her experience starring in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia ? Patricia Arquette (Boyhood, 2014) co-stars.

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Boyhood: The Moment Seizes Us 

The Great Gatsby 

Literary TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 8 – 18) is just a week away. While many movie fans will be charging up their cell phones to catch some pics or selfies with the stars on the red carpet, Arti here at the Pond is interested in spotting the film adaptations of books, or those with literary interest.

This is a photo of the Toronto skyline from Lake Ontario on a hazy morning. Arti took the pic during TIFF14 two years ago. Yes, she’s heading there soon for TIFF16. So stay tuned for future posts.

Hazy Toronto Morning

Here’s a list of some literary titles at TIFF16:

A Quiet Passion 

Not based on a book but no short of literary interest. This is a cinematic biopic of the American poet Emily Dickinson. What’s more, it’s a new film written and directed by the venerable English auteur Terence Davis, who brought us such acclaimed works as Sunset Song (2015), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), and The House of Mirth (2000). Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson, with Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie. Yes, that Jennifer Ehle. Love to see her in another period role but I know, hard to be rid of the Lizzy Bennet image.

American Pastoral 

Philip Roth actually has two movie adaptations of his books coming out this fall. One is Indignation (2008). The other is American Pastoral (1997), which won him a Pulitzer and was considered a seminal work in his oeuvre. Roth later won the Man Booker International Prize in 2011. The prolific author has long been regarded as the astute depicter of the 20th C. Northeastern Jewish-American psyche. Interesting fact of this adaptation is that it’s the directorial debut of Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who will also take up the role of Roth’s famous character Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov. How well can he pull it off? Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly co-star.

Julieta 

Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, Canada’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature (2013). Juliet is the protagonist of “Chance”, “Soon”, and “Silence”,  from Munro’s 2004 volume Runaway. So why the name Julieta? Well, these stories are being transported from a Canadian setting into Spain. The film is helmed by director Pedro Almodóvar, who is described as “the most internationally acclaimed Spanish filmmaker since Luis Buñuel” (IMDb). Almodóvar won an Oscar for his writing/original screenplay with “Talk To Her” (2002). Hopefully this adaptation is worthy of Munro’s source material. I’m curious to see how a totally Canadian story is transplanted into a Euro-Spanish milieu.

 

Certain Women

Another film adaptation based on short stories, this one by author Maile Meloy, from her book Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (2009). The adaptation tells the story of three women and boasts a high calibre cast with Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Laura Dern. It is helmed by Kelly Reichardt who had directed Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy (2008) to critical acclaims. Last I read is that some elements of the stories had been altered to appeal to a contemporary audience.

 

Paterson

This 2016 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or nominee explores an interesting concept: A bus driver by day, a poet by night in Paterson, New Jersey. Can’t find a better named actor than Adam Driver to take up this unique dual occupational role. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch takes the helm. No stranger to Cannes, Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005, remember Bill Murray?) won the Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury in 2005. The director’s versatility has brought us very different kinds of works throughout his career.

 

The Salesman

Since the 1990’s, several Iranian film directors have gained high praises internationally for their cinematic works. The recent death of Abbas Kiarostami is a loss on a grand scale for film art. Another distinctive figure is his younger friend and compatriot Asghar Farhadi, whose A Separation is the first Iranian film to win an Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film, 2012). After that Farhadi crafted another multiple-award-winner The Past (2013). This year he brings us The Salesman. The name is a big hint of its literary affiliation. The story is about the disintegration of a marriage as a couple perform Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman as Willy and Linda Loman. Life imitates art, or vice versa? Farhadi is a master of probing conflicts in domestic relationships. At Cannes earlier this year, The Salesman won Farhadi the Best Screenplay and Shahab Hosseini the Best Actor award.

The Secret Scripture 

After a long wait, and a change in the cast, the film adaptation of Irish writer Sebastian Barry’s Booker shortlisted work is finally completed. In the book, the narrator is a 100 year-old mental hospital patient recalling her life. The old and her younger self are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. The director is Jim Sheridan, the six-times Oscar nominee who introduced us to Daniel Day-Lewis with the excellent productions of My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989) and later In the Name of the Father (1993).

 

Unless

Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935 and after her marriage became a Canadian citizen in 1971, Carol Shields received honours from both countries and internationally as well. The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer in 1993, among many other accolades, while Unless (2002) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Here’s the intriguing tale of Unless: a mother one day finds her runaway daughter living on the street and mute. Oscar nominated Catherine Keener plays the mother Reta Winter. Downton Abbey fans should note, Mr. Bates Brendan Coyle also stars.

 

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Love and Friendship and Other Prospects

Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” (review coming soon on Ripples) opens up a whole new world of Jane Austen for modern day readers and viewers. All we’ve been familiar with are Austen’s six novels, with 60 plus adaptations of full features and TV series according to IMDb.

Based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan written likely when she was only 18 or 19, “Love & Friendship” is a first time movie adaptation of this lesser-known work. Director Stillman got the name from one of Austen’s short stories with one major alteration: &. The film was a big hit. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival this January to critical acclaims. Everywhere since, “Love & Friendship” has left audience fully entertained for 90 minutes. Surprising, or not, for it’s Whit Stillman’s work that’s a long time coming. A specialist in comedy of manners in our modern time, Stillman wrote the screenplay himself, even has it published as a new novel together with Austen’s original work, 2 in 1. Now that’s a must read. And as Stillman said in an interview :”I vastly prefer the kind of collaboration I had with Jane Austen to those living authors… She has no complaints! I can assure you she has no complaints. I know that for a fact.”

After the world was awakened to this relatively ‘unknown’ Austen work being brought to the big screen, now comes another one: “Sanditon”, Austen’s unfinished novel when she died in 1817. So much the better, with an unfinished novel, a screenwriter and director can have the freedom to use their creative flair to boundless possibilities.  (Note: in 1975, a ‘completed Sanditon’ was published, authored by ‘Another Lady’, a writer who chose to follow Jane’s step of anonymity.) This upcoming film adaptation, however, is written by a known name, British playwright / producer/ director Simon Reade, who has many titles adapted on the British stage. Of note is his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a sell out run at The Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Oscar nominated Charlotte Rampling will play dowager Lady Denham in a production helmed by Jim O’Hanlon, who directed the 2009 BBC TV version of Emma.

If Lady Susan and Sanditon can be adapted to the big screen, lots more can come. A treasure trove of unfilmed works await in Austen’s bibliography. The Watsons, short stories, even letters can be put into good use as movie ideas. Lots of prospects lining up:

Frederic and Elfrida
Jack and Alice
Edgar and Emma
Henry and Eliza
Love and Friendship
A History of England
The Three Sisters
Lesley Castle
Evelyn
Catherine, or the Bower
The Watsons

“Love & Friendship” could be kicking off a Jane Austen revival in the coming years.

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Just posted a new list of Books to Movie Adaptations coming out this year or in development on Shiny New Books Issue #10. CLICK HERE to read.

Books Before Films 2016

There are several books on my shelf and in my TBR box that will be turning into films coming out in 2016. I must get to them soon. How time flies, one day’s gone already.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Light bet OceansOften it’s the cast of an upcoming movie that prods me to read a book. This one has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for years since its publication. No matter how popular it is, I’m motivated only now mainly because of the first rate cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, directed by Derek Cianfrance. Instead of a place beyond the pines (his last work) we have an island off the Australian coast, with the story about a lighthouse keeper and his wife bringing up a baby they found in a boat washed up onshore.

 

Silence by Shûsaku Endô

SilenceThis one is just the opposite. I want to read it regardless of whether it will be made into a film or not. But what a bonus it is to know the adaptation is a Martin Scorsese’s work with Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, and Ciarán Hinds. I highly anticipate this film, albeit I expect the viewing experience won’t be pleasant. I’ve read it before but want to reread it before watching. The book is heart-wrenching as Endô describes the persecutions and tortures Christians and Jesuit missionaries suffered in 17th century Japan. How Scorsese, a Catholic himself, handles the subject matter – the choice between apostasy vs. martyrdom – and have these character actors interpret the internal and physical torments will be intriguing to see. Scorsese wrote the forward of this edition of the book (image here).

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's WifeThis is a worthy, true story to be made into film. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were keepers of the reputable Warsaw Zoo. During the Holocaust, Jan smuggled Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto into their facility, saving hundreds. Antonina did the day-to-day chores of protecting them, hiding them in the cages, feeding them and keeping their spirits up. The parallel and irony of men and beasts are obvious. Acclaimed nature writer Diane Ackerman drew from Antonina’s diary to write her non-fiction work, a historical account of a heroic rescue mission. Screenplay by Angela Workerman, a scribe to note. Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl play the altruistic Zabinski couple.

 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan Book CoverThis has been in my iBooks for a long while, so long that I’d deleted it and now reloaded it again as the film adaptation is coming out. Entitled Love and Friendship, screenplay is based on Austen’s early novella Lady Susan, with Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon. It will be interesting to see how the epistle form is translated onto screen. It will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 23. Whether we will actually see it in our movie theatres is another matter. I hope it will be screened in the not too distant future.

 

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

RemainderI bought this book at Harvard Book Store – the independent book store in Harvard Square since 1932 – during my New England Road Trip last fall. I’d read McCarthy’s 2015 Booker shortlisted Satin Island and knew Remainder had been adapted into film before I went on the trip. So it was a title I’d intended to get at that bookstore. Remainder is McCarthy’s debut work (2006). An unnamed Londoner is struck by a falling object and lapse into a coma. As he awakes, he has lost all memory and needs to re-enact his past to find his identity and authenticity of being. The Telegraph had called McCarthy “a Kafka for the Google Age”. Interesting to see how that translates onto screen. The film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival last October. Will screen at Berlin International Film Festival in February, 2016.

 

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

the_secret_scripture_bookcover The film adaptation of Booker short-listed and multiple award winning novel by Irish writer Sebastian Barry has already been completed, but has yet come up with a release date. So, I’ve plenty of time to read the book. The narrator is a 100 year-old mental hospital patient recalling her life. The old and the young are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. Directed by Jim Sheridan, the Oscar nominated director who introduced us to Daniel Day-Lewis in the excellent productions first in My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown and later In the Name of the Father.

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September Wrap

Here’s a post of lists, movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read or listened to, all in September, a list that hopefully can tide you over till my next post, which will be after a long-planned hiatus. You’re welcome to throw in your thoughts on any title on this list, or ripple out to other shores.

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MOVIES At Theatres:

Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Who are they kidding? Might as well just put in this disclaimer: Title taken at random. This is not the Man from U.N.C.L.E. with David McCallum (yeah) as Illya Kuryakin and Robert Vaughn (boo) as Napoleon Solo during my childhood days. I knew what the acronym stood for even as a grade schooler, and was mesmerized by a world wide net of spies and intrigues, despite watching a B/W TV set. This 2015 U.N.C.L.E. feature movie is just like any other lesser spy flicks, feels like haphazardly done, dated spywares that fail to send any positive nostalgic vibes, and featuring an accidental duo just happen to have the same names as those in the 60’s TV series. The third person, Alicia Vikander, makes it a bit more watchable. ~ ~ Ripples

Mistress America

A bit disappointed considering how much I’d enjoyed Frances Ha and the works of Noah Baumbach. Greta Gerwig is a mystery to me. In all her roles she looks ultra cheerful, even in difficult circumstances, but is that overacting or is that what her character is supposed to convey, optimism as fuel for life? Anyway, I wanted to give Mistress America a second chance. But as I checked the showtimes a couple of weeks later, it wasn’t there anymore.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

A Walk in the Woods

A pleasant surprise! Is there life after 50, 60 … 70? Robert Redford and Nick Nolte is an odd pair to answer that from the jagged edge of a cliff. All the cliché shots of two old men hiking the Appalachian Trail are in the movie trailer; the film has more to offer. Emma Thompson is a welcome addition as the forbearing wife hoping for the best. I’ve seen several of this genre in recent years: WildTracksThe Way, to name a few, with A Walk in the Woods being the lightest but still quite relevant. Lesson learned? Forget about your age, and, giving up doesn’t make you a failure. It has been a long while since I read Bill Bryson’s book on which the film is based. Watching the adaptation brings laughs which I remember were absent while reading. An easy 2 hours of relaxation without taking one single step.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Learning to Drive

Just the opposite, I was not enthused about the trailer and my hesitations about the film were confirmed as I watched. Based on a non-fiction piece from Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive and other Life Stories, the movie turns political by changing the Filipino driving instructor into a Sikh, played by Ben Kingsley. No matter, he has that poise and dignity no matter what costume he puts on. It’s not surprising to see Patricia Clarkson’s Wendy character – a woman in her fifties learning to drive for the first time in her life – get some bonus lessons on cultural awareness on top of parallel parking.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

The End of the Tour

One of the best films I’ve seen this year, and maybe for some time. Nothing looks ‘performed’, yes, even the nervous Jesse Eisenberg as writer David Lipsky is his natural self, unsure of himself and of his subject David Foster Wallace, as he follows his Infinite Jest book tour to write an article for the Rolling Stone Magazine. Based on Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, the film belongs to Jason Segel. A surprising cast and Segel has delivered with poignancy as Wallace. Framed in a sympathetic tone, the film is a moving tribute to and a revelation of an author whom some may choose to misread.
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Pawn Sacrifice

The title says it all. A pawn is sacrificed in the heat of the cold war. Based on the true events that rocked the chess world and quickly inflamed the political landscape, American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) captured the world championship in 1972, taking the title away from Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). While the film in all its earnest intentions effectively brings out the intensity of the rivalry, the main issue I feel is the casting. Liev Schreiber is too famous a face to be Boris Spassky, even speaking in Russian doesn’t make him any more convincing; Maguire is even more famous a face to be Fischer. And may I go into this? They both need to slim down a bit to fit the profile of the cold war chess rivals, especially Schreiber. My choice for Fischer? Nicholas Hoult. Spassky? Andrew Garfield.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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MOVIES on DVD’s:

The Jungle Book

It has been a long, long while since I watched it and now a refresher to prepare for the star-studded voicing in the remake. This 1967 Disney animation just shows how much has changed in animations then and now. Hand-drawn, slower paced, and nuanced facial expressions from the animal characters, albeit a bit flat when compared to the hyperactive animations we see today. The new version of The Jungle Book is coming out in 2016, utilizing ‘up to the minute technology’, and fusing a real life Mowgli with CGI generated animals and jungle environs all in 3D. As for the 1967 version, the music and the songs will stay as original as ever.

This is Where I Leave You

Another August: Osage County, which is influencing which, for these two are so alike? Or, maybe just speaks to the fact that the dysfunctional family is the norm. Under the direction of their mother, five estranged siblings have to come back home to sit shiva as their father passed. Staying under the same roof for seven days is an ordeal with the Altman family, for everyone carries baggage they’d rather bury together with the dead. Not as bad a film as critics say. Jane Fonda is a less overbearing mother as Meryle Streep is in Osage County, so not to overshadow the rest of the cast. Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll may not be the best of siblings, they make one good cast. Don’t you just love the title?

Greenberg

From the dysfunctional family to the dysfunctional individual. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes back to LA from NYC to housesit for his brother as the family takes a vacation. As one who had received treatment in a mental hospital, Roger has many personal issues to deal with, and it’s a little heart-wrenching to see him struggle to relate, albeit at times he comes through more as annoying than deserving kindness; but maybe that’s the point. Greta Gerwig plays Florence, dog walker for the family. Stiller is in his usual mode, lost to himself and others; Gerwig is her usual self too, pleasant despite all. So it’s not hard to predict the outcome but the process makes one interesting take. The first time Gerwig in director Noah Baumbach’s work. Here began a beautiful and rewarding partnership.

Panic Room

Re-watch after learning this is the breakout film for Kristen Stewart, age 12. Didn’t realize she played Jodie Foster’s daughter there when I first saw the movie years back, and now seeing it again I find the two do have some resemblance, in appearance and demeanour. Locked in a panic room in a fancy NYC apartment they just moved in, mother and daughter try to stay safe as a gang of burglars break in. Although not thoroughly plausible, especially how Foster answers the door as two policeman come to check on them, which then leads to some even more implausible outcomes at the end. But, overall, a riveting, edge-of-your-seat kind of viewing. And when you think of it, of course, it’s David Fincher.

Olive Kitteridge

Binge-watched this HBO 4-hour mini-series after it won 7 Prime Time Emmys last Sunday. Writing, acting, editing, camera work, the whole production is captivating, and at times, very funny, no, not the Bill Murray section – he’s actually serious here. Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins are deserving winners. In her acceptance speech for the Best Mini Series, McDormand emphasized that it all came from a book. Yay for books, the wellspring of inspiration. Olive Kitteridge is author Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning work; writer Jane Anderson wins her Emmy for the adapted screenplay. However marvelous the visualization, it all started with words on a page.


A Touch of Sin

In preparation for Jia Zhangke’s 2015 festival film Mountains May DepartA Touch of Sin was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2013 and won Jia a Best Screenplay award. Jia’s camera frames a perspective that’s bold and true in his home country China, a nation obsessed with modernization, economic growth, and wealth accumulation. The film reveals the human costs for such enterprises. Unfortunately, his countrymen didn’t have a chance to watch this one as it was banned. But with Mountains May Depart, officials had said they would allow it. I’m afraid it just might be much tamer and easier for the palate.

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BOOKS

Summer by Edith Wharton

After The Age of Innocence, I continue to explore the writings of The Gilded Age, to prepare for my New England trip and yes, Julian Fellowes’ new American TV series.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Not as chilling as the title sounds, heartwarming memoir of a son chronicling the extraordinary life of his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, albeit she would have likely said, “O, mine is just another life. There are many more deserving ones.” While accompanying his mother at her chemo therapy sessions in the hospital, son and mother share books and reading. The two-persons book club is therapeutic for both.

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain (Audiobook read by Katharine McEwan)

Not sure how much is true in this fact-based fiction about Beryle Markham, the award winning race horse trainer in Kenya and in 1936, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Markham flew from England to NYC, but crash landed in Nova Scotia after a 21 hour harrowing flight head-on against the prevailing winds. (I later learned that Amelia Earhart’s 1932 flight was from west to east, a much ‘easier’ feat with the tailwind, landed in Ireland after only 15 hours in flight.) McLain’s book tells many more stories, and gossips, than just this monumental event. Beryl had known the Out of Africa author Karen Blixen in the small social circle in Kenya. Why, Beryl is the other woman in Deny’s life, according to McLain. Not too sure about the book, but I was much impressed by the voice of the narrator Katharine McEwan.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

The only 2015 Booker Prize shortlisted book I’ve read, so far, and it’s brilliant. The book presents a most interesting story of a ‘corporate anthropologist’ collecting field data for an ethnographic study of the human society in this digital age. The ‘Great Report’ is needed to be written, same as this book: what have we become at this juncture of human history and civilization? Maybe we do need anthropologists to offer a narrative of our contemporary society, or even better, we should all be trained as anthropologists to see ourselves better.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

I’ve enjoyed McCarthy’s style of postmodern incisions. Remainder is his debut work and soon to be made into a movie. Walking down the street our unnamed (of course) protagonist was hit by a falling object. After coming out of a coma, he needs to re-enact his past to regain memories, and to reconstruct an authentic existence. Who is he, what is he? With the huge sum of monetary compensations, he steps out to do exactly that. Still reading, a fascinating premise.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey: A Delicious Fusion

Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallström serves us a tasty treat in the fairy-tale style of his previous, acclaimed Chocolat (2000). The underlying ingredient that spices up the story this time is more than just dainty sweets. This one is surprisingly gratifying.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is adapted from the light-hearted novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais. Oscar nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, 2007) has done a marvelous job in turning the cartoonish style of a book into a robust and more complex cinematic parable, with dashes of humor and clever dialogues for added delights.

THFJ Movie Poster

The story is most relevant today in our world overwhelmed by warring differences and conflicts. It is an immigrant story. It also presents an ideal case of how cultures can coexist and harmony can be found in diversity.

The Kadam family leaves India after the tragic loss of their mother and their family restaurant in a fire caused by an angry mob. After a short stay in London, Papa (Om Puri) leads his family to settle in the picturesque village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in Southern France. The first few minutes of back story is concise and captivating.

Papa soon finds a derelict restaurant for sale. His own Maison Mumbai, the first Indian restaurant in the vicinity is subsequently opened, a seemingly arduous venture. Papa is a headstrong patriarch, undeterred by the initial protests of his sons, and the Michelin starred Le Saule Pleureur across the street. The proprietor of that haute cuisine establishment is the formidable Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren), who is determined to drive her competitor out.

On opposite sides of this one-hundred-foot wide roadway thus rage the battle of sights, sounds, and aromas, of spices and sauces, ambiance and costumes, an all-out war of clashing cultures.

Indian spices

Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the head cook of the Kadam family. He has learned the skills from his late mother; loving memories of her cooking fuel his gastronomic passion. Furthermore, Hassan is endowed with a distinct talent for the culinary art. He is most ready to explore brave new tastes.

The young sous chef across the street, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), plays no small part in Hassan’s curiosity of French cooking. The two strike up an ambivalent relationship as both friends and foes.

After Madam Mallory discovers the gift in Hassan, she offers to take him under her wings. Such a proposition is, expectedly, rejected by Papa. However, it is Hassan’s decision and passion after all. His determination soon overrides the objection from Papa.

By taking his first step to cross the great hundred-foot divide, Hassan turns the page of both parties in the cuisine conflicts. His journey ultimately leads to an additional Michelin star for Le Saule Pleureur and fame for himself. Hassan’s excelling and competing in the qualifying challenge in Paris is the bridge reconciling the two sides of the road.

It is fun to see the hostile rivals Madam Mallory and the patriarch of the Kadam family coming together. Their changed demeanor brings out the latent, better qualities of each other, offering us some nuanced performance and heart-warming scenes. I must note that there were constant, spontaneous laughs and even restrained applause in the theatre of the preview screening I was in.

Peace offering

The film itself is a smorgasbord of international talents. Acclaimed Swedish director Lasse Hallström takes the helm. English Screenwriter Steven Knight adapts a novel by Richard C. Morais, an American born in Portugal and raised in Switzerland. English star Dame Helen Mirren masters some French accented English dialogues, her previous Oscar winning role as The Queen is amusingly embedded. Papa Om Puri is a veteran Indian actor with a British OBE honor. Mandish Dayal who plays Hassan is American born of Indian descent; his love interest is the up-and-coming actress Charlotte Le Bon (also in Yves Saint Laurent, 2014), a French-Canadian from Montreal.

Director of photography Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, 2013, Swedish born BTW) entices viewers with his close-ups of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and market offerings. For those who may wonder, those spiked, round objects are sea urchins. The agile and well-paced sequences of food being prepared are most effective. In contrast, the wide-angle, bird’s eye views of the picturesque Southern France countryside are equally mesmerizing.

Music is an important ingredient in the film. Composed by the prolific A. R. Rahman, who won two Oscars for his work in Slumdog Millionaire, the score adds a distinguished Indian flare. With the lively Indian music juxtaposed against the backdrop of serene Southern France, the film offers viewers some interesting mixes of sights and sounds.

There are times when the editing could be tighter, scenes that need to be made clearer and more coherent, especially in the last third of the film. However, the overall production is a delicious offering. The gratifying finish serves the idea that, apart from the Michelin, home is where the ultimate star is to be found, a thought to savor and an enticement for tasting it all over again. I know I will go for a second helping.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Awards Update:

Dec. 11: Helen Mirren gets a Golden Globe nom for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

Other Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

My book review of The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

Haute Cuisine Movie Reivew

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery 

Books to Movie Adaptations Updates

Here are some updates that look promising, books that are in various stages of development into movies. For yourself or your book group, should make a good reading list:

East of Eden Book CoverEast of Eden — This just came out two days ago, Hunger Games director Gary Ross will write the screenplay of this new adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic, with Jennifer Lawrence to star. For J. Law fans, this is good news. But for devotees of the original 1955 movie adaptation directed by the legendary Elia Kazan with the debut breakout role for James Dean, this modern version definitely is uncalled for, a rebel without a cause.

An Object of BeautyAn Object of Beauty — The movie version of Steve Martin’s novel about the NYC art gallery scene is now a project of Amy Adams’, with Ned Benson writing the screenplay. I have high expectation of this one, having seen Benson’s wonderful works The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her last year at TIFF. The cast has not been announced but Amy Adams will be the producer and actor in her new project.

A Walk In the WoodsA Walk In The Woods — from the vast open sea in All Is Lost to the Appalachian Trail, Robert Redford will appear in this adaptation of the 1998 personal memoir by Bill Bryson, a walk on the Appalachian Trail to ‘rediscover America.’ Nick Nolte is also reported to be in the cast. Screenplay by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, The Hunger Games), directed by Ken Kwapis (The Office). The movie is scheduled to come out in 2015. Enough time to read or reread, or even walk the Trail yourself. Who knows, you might see the film crew while there.

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins Author Jess Walter of this popular novel will co-write the screenplay with writer/director Todd Field. I’ve seen Field’s Oscar nominated adaptation of Little Children (2006 with Kate Winslet nom. for Best Actress), a haunting film. I trust his talents with Beautiful Ruins. Considering the Italian coastal setting of the book, the movie would likely offer some beautiful cinematography. Imogen Poots is on board, so far.

The Dinner The Dinner — Dutch author Herman Koch’s novel is like a dynamite. I’m half way through the lighted fuse as I type this post, so it’s not full-blown yet, but I’m totally engrossed in this book based on a real-life crime. The dinner menu in an elegant restaurant ingeniously parallels the plot development. I missed it at TIFF last year. And since, I’m not aware that it has made its presence on the big screens here in North America. But hopefully this year we will have the chance to see it. Even if it doesn’t show in your city, read the book still. (Update: to read my book review on Goodreads CLICK HERE.)

Hundred Foot JourneyThe Hundred-foot JourneyAnother culinary movie. This one is much lighter than the above, based on Richard C. Morais’s novel. Story is about a family from India moves to France, opening an Indian restaurant across from a Michelin-starred fine French restaurant. Cultural clashes, the reverse of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The book is quite entertaining, the movie comes with some big names. Producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, Helen Mirren to star, and directed by the prolific Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, 2000; The Shipping News, 2001; Salmon Fishing In the Yemen, 2011)

The GiverThe Giver – The highly popular young adult book by Lois Lowry finally gets a movie appearance, over twenty years after its publication in 1993. Utopia turned bad, ideals and reality. With so many movies on a dystopia, will this still look fresh? Cast include Jeff Bridges as The Giver, and look here, Meryle Streep, Taylor Swift, Alexander Skarsgard, Philip Noyce directs. One of Noyce’s previous works is the adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American (2002). Many may have read this title in school. Time to reread.

The Little PrinceThe Little PrinceLots of talents are behind this newest animation based on the beloved story by French author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Those lending a voice include: Rachel McAdams, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Jeff Bridges, Paul Giamatti. While I love the earlier musical version (1974, with Gene Wilder as The Fox), I welcome a new adaptation, for I know this will bring the book to the limelight for a new generation. Making a movie nowadays looks to be the most effective way to introduce literature to a younger generation (or whatever generations).

Secret ScriptureThe Secret Scripture — By the Booker Prize short-listed Irish author Sebastian Barry. The novel is an internal dialogue of a close to 100 years-old patient in a mental hospital, Roseanne McNulty, reminiscing her younger days. The older character will be played by the brilliant Vanessa Redgrave, her younger self by the talented Jessica Chastain. I last see them together in a film was in Ralph Fiennes’s directorial debut, the modern version of Shakespear’s Coriolanus. Don’t think these two ladies will appear in the same scene in The Secret Scripture since they are of different time periods, but good to know that the roles are being played by two wonderful actors.

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Previous Books to Movies Lists:

2014 Book To Movie Adaptations

Upcoming Book to Movie Adaptations

Great Movies Expectations

Related Posts:

My book review of The Dinner posted on Goodreads

Book Review of The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

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

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