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Which big screen versions of our favourite books have managed to preserve their essence, even introducing the original text to new audiences? Alexander Armstrong, presenter of Classic FM's Summer Book Club, has a good idea of the ones that work for him.
Jane Austen’s first published work was released in 1811 with Austen writing under the pseudonym, ‘A Lady’. Ang Lee’s version was released in 1995 to great acclaim, featuring an Oscar-nominated soundtrack by Patrick Doyle. Emma Thompson picked up the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Alexander Armstrong says: "There are few things more depressing than going to see a film adaptation of your favourite book, only to discover they’ve absolutely ruined the plot and everything you loved about it in the first place. On the other hand, it’s a great feeling when there's one that just works. And this one does."
Nothing screams successful adaptation more than 30 Oscar nominations – so we can safely say that J.R.R Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy was in good hands with Peter Jackson. For the last two years, Classic FM listeners have voted Howard Shore’s film score to the top spot of the annual Movie Music Chart. Alexander Armstrong says: "I don’t know what it is about authors using initials instead of their full names, but it seems to be a surefire way to success – perhaps J.K Rowling and George R.R. Martin took a leaf out of J.R.R Tolkien’s book – well, not literally…"
Alexander Armstrong says: "Everyone thought The Life of Pi by Yann Martel was unfilmable – a boy on a raft with only a tiger for company! But somehow, Ang Lee managed it magnificently." The director picked up an Oscar for Best Director and Mychael Danna also won one for Best Original Score.
Based on the Booker prize-winning Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, the film tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party who saved the lives of more than 1000 Jews. Alexander says: "With Steven Spielberg at the helm and the acting talents of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, the finished product was moving and unforgettable." John Williams picked up the Oscar for Best Original Score.
The definitive cult classic of the 90s, directed by Danny Boyle, made Hollywood property of Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald. Alexander Armstrong says: "The subject matter is undeniably bleak, but the adaptation kept the humour and urgency of the original book by Irvine Welsh."
Based on the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption was a bit of a slow burner. "After a lukewarm box office reception," says Alexander Armstrong, "it then received various award nominations and critical acclaim that gave it a second life on television and DVD. And now it often appears high up in the ‘Best Movie of All Time’ lists."
The 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was given the Stanley Kubrick treatment, which stayed relatively faithful to the original, apart from missing out on the optimistic final chapter. Alexander Armstrongs says, "Another difference is that in the novella, Alex is conditioned against all music after undergoing treatment for his criminal behaviour, but in the film he is only conditioned against the Ninth Symphony by his favourite composer, Beethoven."
A shocking and violent watch based on the debut novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Alexander Armstrong says, "It’s carried by strong performances from Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and in particular, Helena Bonham Carter, who well and truly broke out of the Merchant-Ivory period drama confines with her turn as Marla Singer. Seeing as ‘the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club’, I will say no more."
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book and an Oscar-winning movie. The film won three Oscars, including Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s brilliant portrayal of Atticus Finch. Alexander Armstrong says: "Harper Lee’s debut – and so far only published - novel has sold over 30 million copies and the film is a faithful adaptation of her story. If you’ve not read it before – or if you only have a hazy memory of studying it at school – I’d highly recommend you get yourself a copy or download it to your Kindle as one of your holiday reads."
Alexander Armstrong says, "The success of Ian Fleming’s creation, James Bond, is evident from not only his novels and short story collections but the continuation novels and spin-off works that have been released since his death." Daniel Craig currently plays Bond and his first outing in the role was in Casino Royale in 2006. This was based on Fleming’s debut Bond novel, published in 1953, that’s actually been adapted for the screen three times. Staying faithful to Fleming’s story while successfully reinventing the franchise, Casino Royale was the highest-grossing Bond film of all time – that is, until Skyfall came along.