Books are like passports. They take us wherever we want to travel. The destination may be a land, real or imagined; it could be a different time zone, historical or futuristic; or it may just be another emotion, leaving us uplifted or reflective when we finish the last page.
Stories allow us to escape, to use our imagination. They offer us the chance to break-away from reality and become absorbed in the physical and emotional journeys of others.
How many of us, therefore, picture these stories cinematically when we turn the pages?
It’s a question that came to me recently when I saw screen adaptations of two of my favourite classic books: Little Women and David Copperfield.
I remember reading Little Women over forty years ago. At the time it never occurred to me to compare myself to any of the main characters, but seeing Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen expertly cast as Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, the four March sisters, it made me reflect that at some stage in my life I’ve probably had something in common with each one of them. For now though, I’m convincing myself I’m a ‘Jo’: content to make my own way in the world, and working on that second novel!
However, revisiting the story after so many years and seeing it on the big screen certainly made me think about it in a different way (but maybe maturity has made me more analytical, as well as presbyopic!)
By contrast The Personal History of David Copperfield is a refreshing, light-hearted and witty romp through Charles Dickens’s novel which, I think, has made it accessible to a wider audience than its readership. Again, the cast is brilliant, with Dev Patel as David Copperfield, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick, Tilda Swinton as Betsy Trotwood, Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber, and Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep. A recent Sunday Times review called the film ‘a sublime pleasure’, deserving ‘top hats to go flying through the air,’ and I agree.
In film parlance, animation refers to the technique of creating dynamic visual sequences from static drawings, i.e. cartoons. Perhaps these new screen adaptations could be referred to as reanimations: the restoring of life into characters, lifting them from the page?
There are many more examples, such as Ian McEwan’s novels The Children Act, and On Chesil Beach, plus Colm Tóibin’s novel Brooklyn , which have been adapted with success. However there is one screen adaptation that has particular resonance for me, because the author in question turned his hand to creative writing after a long alternative career. Former intelligence officer, Nicholas Searle, decided to embark on a creative writing course, on retiring from the Civil Service, aged sixty. His first novel The Good Liar quickly became a best-seller and soon after was adapted for the screen. I loved the book, and was blown away by the performances of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren in the film. In an interview in The Guardian, Searle described seeing his characters coming to life on the screen as a ‘surreal experience’, adding that “the performances are just so strong. They bring the whole thing to life. When one reads the screenplay, one sees the gaps, but one doesn’t realise quite how the actors and the director fill the gaps between the lines. That’s the absolute magic of acting.’
I live in hope. In the meantime I have already worked out who I would cast in the roles of Ruth, Dominic and Mac from Love Until it Hurts but, no spoilers …this is only in my dreams! Your suggestions are welcome, nevertheless!