When Books get Turned into Films or TV Shows

I’ve recently watched both a film and a TV programme of two books I had loved reading so I had high expectations of what I would see on screen. Over the years, I have seen many such films or TV shows based on favourite books and the results have been quite hit and miss. It’s a fine line for production companies to please everyone but it’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get everyone talking.

The recent TV programme I’m talking about is of course, the BBC adaptation of Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. There are no spoilers here by the way, if you want to carry on reading 🙂 So, here’s what happened. I read all the build-up telling us that this great book was going to be on TV and then I saw the author’s name, recognising her from when she had been on the celebrity version of University Challenge over Christmas. I remember liking her at the time but feeling a bit ashamed as I’d never heard of her and after the show, I went and looked her up on Amazon. And I was overjoyed to see that she has written a lot of books. I made a mental note to buy one of those books at the earliest opportunity. Then came the news that Apple Tree Yard was going to be on TV so I decided to buy that one – the premise looked so compelling – and I planned to read it before watching the show.

By the time the first episode aired, I was about a quarter of the way through so I decided to risk it and watch the show unable to wait while everyone else was watching. The book was fabulous and so was the first episode of the TV show, with Emily Watson in particular, doing a wonderful job of playing Yvonne as I knew her from the book. I did feel disappointed that all the nuances of Yvonne’s inner thoughts couldn’t be shown on screen and also I had to wonder why there was the need to change minor details, like the name of her husband but apart from those niggles, I felt it was very faithful, in fact shockingly so, to the story. I carried on reading, furiously trying to get far enough ahead before the next episode. When I watched the next instalment, I was so close to the story that I could pick out exact phrases from the book when they were used and I felt that Emily Watson did an amazing job of recreating Yvonne’s suffering.

By the time the final two shows were aired back to back, I had finished the book and I was looking forward to a thrilling ending in the programme to match it. Unfortunately, this did not happen for me. I watched it with my husband who hadn’t read the book and he thought the ending to the story was brilliant. And it was, but the TV version didn’t have quite the same brilliance for me as the book did. There were too many differences, some subtle and some huge and it was at this point that I wondered if I had perhaps done the book a disservice, and myself in the process. Maybe I needed to have read it some time before so that there was some distance between my reading of it and the TV interpretation of the same so that I could be objective. Having read some of the online reviews of the TV programme since then though, I don’t think I’m alone in the view that the TV programme just didn’t quite live up to the book.

Last night, we watched The Girl on the Train, which is the only audiobook we have listened to. We listened to it in the summer of 2015 when we were on holiday in France and were doing a fair bit of driving. I remember the book pretty well, maybe because we listened to it and it took us quite a long time to do so. The narration was brilliant, told by three different female narrators, and the story literally had us on the edge of our seats. After every chapter, we discussed what had happened and what we thought it all meant, and the shared experience was very enjoyable. Mind you, we haven’t listened to any other books together since then, but I don’t think we would be averse to doing it again if the circumstances were right.

When the film came out at the cinema, we decided not to go and see it because of the poor reviews we’d heard about the film. Set in America, you say? How would that translate? And Emily Blunt in the main role? Hmm, we’d just watched her in Sicario, which I really didn’t like although I do think she’s a good actress. We would watch it eventually we maintained, just not at the cinema. So I added it to our Amazon watchlist and last night we were in the mood for it. And do you know what? We loved it 🙂 Our daughter watched it with us as well and even she was drawn in enough by it to unglue herself from her phone! The change of setting worked well, we thought, and didn’t bother us at all and Emily Blunt’s acting was nuanced and empathetic. The tale unfolded carefully and as we approached the end, I realised that I couldn’t remember exactly what happened so the thrill of the ending was just as good for me as if I hadn’t read the book. So, perhaps a bit of distance does help, who knows?

Of course, there have been plenty of awful adaptations of books I have loved. The worst one of all time for me was the film of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I loved this book so much and spent half the time I was reading it sobbing in anticipation of the ending so the film had a lot to live up to. And it didn’t.

I have tried the film a couple of times but the depth of the love story just isn’t there for me, no matter how much I want it to be.

In April, I am lucky enough to be attending a local literary festival where Louise Doughty is going to be talking and giving a creative workshop. I imagine that there will be quite a few questions about Apple Tree Yard, especially as I hear that a sequel might be in the offing.

Do you have a favourite TV/film adaptation of a book you’ve loved? Or worse, one you hated? Do let me know in the comments and keep the conversation going. See you next time, when I hope to have news about my second book – actual, definite news with dates and everything!

 

16 thoughts on “When Books get Turned into Films or TV Shows

  1. I’ve REALLY enjoyed this article. Mainly because I relate to it all. I enjoyed both versions of Girl on a Train too. I may even have enjoyed the film more because I read the book. I certainly agree with what you said about The Time Traveller’s wife. Another ancient book I really loved was Random Harvest by James Hilton. The film was nowhere near as good because the twist was visual in the film and untranslatable. A brilliant book though, if ever you get the chance.
    Enjoy that litfest. 😉 xx

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    • Oh good, thank you for reading! That’s good to hear what you thought of ‘The Girl on the Train’ and that you enjoyed it as much as we did. I don’t know the one you mention but I’ll be off to look it up straight away! I am so looking forward to the LitFest – will you be at that one? 🙂 xx

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  2. Having read this I will now watch the film version of Girl on a Train. I’d been avoiding it, mainly because of the shift of setting from London to America, but maybe I’ve been cutting off my nose to spite my face! The Time Traveller’s Wife is one of my all-time favourite books, and I’m not sure any adaptation could have lived up to expectations, but several years ago I took my children to see A Little Princess, having loved the book by Frances Hodgeson Burnett. The film was magical and increased my enjoyment of this lovely story!

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    • I’m glad I’ve persuaded you, Sam! I hope you like it now…It’s so wonderful when a book we love becomes a film or TV adaptation we love too, isn’t it? I’ve just remembered about the original BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which I could watch again and again. I also loved the BBC’s ‘Secret Garden’ which I still love as an adult 🙂 Thanks for reading xx

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      • I totally agree with you on both of those. I enjoyed Apple Tree Yard, but I haven’t read the book. I may have to now, because after I’d watched the final episode I was intrigued to know how she was feeling toward Mark now, and I’m not sure the series made that clear. Of course film and tv can never give us all the nuances of a well written book, but sometimes they add an extra layer of pleasure!

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  3. I was a bit confused about the ending of ATY on TV – my immediate thought was that I must go and reread the ending of the book. I first came across ATY when Louise Doughty was a speaker at the Scarborough ‘Books by the Beach’ festival a few years ago. Louise read a short extract and I knew I had to find out what happened!

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    • Yes, me too, even though I’d only just read it! It’s a great book and it will be interesting to see what she thought of the BBC adaptation. Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment, Dorinda 🙂

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    • To be fair though, a film has much less time to tell the story. Still, it is hit and miss as I said 🙂 It’s such a joy though when a film or TV show gets it right. Thanks again for reading and commenting, April.

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  4. Two excellent film adaptations I can think of were The Kite Runner and recently The Light Between Oceans – true to the books. On every of the worst was My Sisters Keeper where the ending was the opposite to the book – so frustrating 😳

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    • Oh, yes, The Kite Runner, book and film, were both excellent 🙂 I haven’t read The Light Between Oceans but thought the story looked really good when I looked at the film of the book. I will give My Sister’s Keeper a miss on your advice! Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment, Janine 🙂

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  5. Great post. Books often are better than screen adaptations. Nothing can beat the awesome power of our own imagination! If I want to watch the movie or show, sometimes I don’t read the book or, if I do, I space the read/watch out. That said, I would love it if one of my books were adapted for screen!

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    • Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Maya. Yes, it’s a difficult one to manage, especially when you’ve read a book first. I probably won’t read a book and then watch it as a film/on TV so close together again! I would also love it if one of my books were adapted as a film or for TV! We can dream 🙂

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