Friday, October 5, 2012

From the Page to the Screen


tv-books 10-4-12


  Yesterday I suggested that maybe television isn’t well equipped for adapting literature, particularly if it happens to be fairly complex literature.  But that got me to thinking about books that have transitioned to the small screen, and that surely there have been some successes along the way.

  Currently, of course, there are several wildly popular series on television that are based on books: True Blood, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and Gossip Girl, just to name a few.  In the past, the list included The Waltons, MASH (though some might argue that was really based on the film, but the film was based on the book, so . . .), Little House on the Prairie, Sex and the City, and, one of my favorites, Spenser for Hire

The thing is, though, none of those shows are really about adapting a single story to the small screen as much as simply creating new stories and situations for existing characters and universes.  Come to think of it, it’s really just an accepted form of fan fiction, so what’s up with that?  But I digress.

So, it seems TV is actually pretty good at adapting characters, what about stories?  Well, in truth, after I was lamenting the poor showing for Les Misérables yesterday, I gave it a little more thought, and came up with a few shows that I really did enjoy.  These shows were really pretty good, and while I’ve not seen any of them recently, my instinct is that they have probably held up pretty well through the years.

Man in the Iron Mask.  Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, the movie tells the tale of Louis XIV, who’s keeping his twin brother—and rightful heir to the throne—locked away in a dungeon, face hidden so that his identity will never be revealed.  I liked The Three Musketeers when I was a kid, so I’d read The Man in the Iron Mask before watching the movie, and I seem to remember thinking the film had taken some shortcuts, but it was still very enjoyable.  Of course, it had Richard Chamberlain in the title role (and that of Louis, as well), so it had a lot going for it right from the beginning. 

Brideshead Revisited.  I’ve never read the Evelyn Waugh novel, and, as a rule, I’m not a fan of sweeping period dramas, but this one was really well done.  Told in flashback, we see how two very different young men—Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder—meet at Oxford and become friends.  Charles is a common man, while Sebastian is from an aristocratic family; the meshing of these two backgrounds is not simple nor trouble-free.  We see how Charles’ relationship with Sebastian and his family impacts his life, for good and bad.  Jeremy Irons stars as Sebastian, and Anthony Andrews as Charles, and there’s an extensive supporting cast throughout the mini-series, including John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. 

A Tale of Two Cities.  This may be my least favorite of these three programs, but it is based on a book that easily makes my all-time top ten list, and it’s fairly well done, so I count it as a success.  As is typical in the works of Charles Dickens, there’s a lot going on—lots of characters and multiple storylines.  But the primary stories (or at least those that really leave a lasting impression) are those of Sidney Carton and Charles Darnay.  Set in the time of the French revolution, it’s a story of the inequities of class, love and longing, honor and redemption.  This version of the tale stars James Wilby as Carton and Xavier Deluc as Darnay, and they both do a decent job.  But the biggest problem with adapting such an in-depth work is that there’s just never enough time, and even the three hours allotted to this two-part movie doesn’t quite allow us to know these men like we should.  Still, as I said, it’s not too bad, and I do remember it fondly. 

So, maybe I was too hasty in dismissing television’s ability to bring books into our living rooms, as there certainly are some success stories out there.  It might not be a high percentage of winners, but it’s enough that I won’t give up just yet.

Are there any books-to-TV shows that you’re particularly fond of?  Or any that you think failed miserably?

31 Days of TV