Literature's Best Film and TV Adaptations I Oxford Open Learning


    Literature’s Best Film and TV Adaptations

    The old saying is quite true; there really is nothing like a good book! However, onscreen adaptations of these texts can sometimes come close. This is especially true when they’re well-made, with every frame a heartfelt homage to the source material from which it came.

    The 5 Top Adaptations

    Of course, there have been misfires in cinema and television history when it comes to adaptations. So how do you separate the good from the bad? Well, luckily for you, we’ve done it for you! Here are 5 screen adaptations (not including Harry Potter) that we consider to be among the best!

    Life of Pi (2012)

    Life of Pi benefits greatly from strong lead performances from Suraj Sharma and the late Irrfan Khan, as well as mesmerising cinematography by Claudio Miranda. Directed by Ang Lee, the story of Pi and Richard Parker is beautifully delivered, featuring meticulously rendered CGI animals and a bevy of inspirational, well-constructed scenes.

    This is a story about spirituality, grief, and adventure, among other things. In many ways, it’s a story about storytelling too. After surviving a shipwreck which claims the lives of his family, Pi finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with only a Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, for company. From here, questions of reality and how stories are presented are poised with perfect artistry.

    Life of Pi is certainly a layered tale that one might think only flourishes on the page. However, the use of imagery and metaphor seamlessly translates to the big screen without a hitch. Lee’s effort here earned him the Academy Award for Best Director, and the film scored a bevy of additional nominations and wins in other categories too.

    Good Omens (2019)

    Starring the charming duo of David Tennant and Michael Sheen, the Good Omens adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s work was a roaring success. Of course, not all adaptations are fortunate enough to get one of the original writers to helm the screen version, but here Gaiman brings over all the wit he and Pratchett expertly wrote the first-time round.
    Of course, with Pratchett’s untimely passing, it’s only right that the creatives behind the adaptation endeavour to get it right as a labour of love. Needlessly to say they succeeded, and watching demonic Tennant and angelic Sheen bicker, banter and blither is a joy to watch from start to finish. There’s a lot to love here, and though it was originally envisioned as a film by the creators, the episodic format works wonders for the pacing and fleshes out the narrative superbly.

    His Dark Materials (2019-Present)

    Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of books would always be a challenge to properly adapt. The first effort in film, 2007’s The Golden Compass, unfortunately fell flat, and there was some debate amongst the creatives and fans as to whether adapting Pullman’s works for the screen could be done right. Thankfully, the most recent effort is proof enough that it could be.

    Airing as a television series this time round, His Dark Materials is a collaboration between the UK and US, produced by Bad Wolf and New Line productions and aired and distributed by BBC One and HBO. One might think this would be enough to produce something of a muddled finished product, but the show kicked off with a bang and has showed no signs of slowing down since.

    The story of Lyra is effortlessly told with some bold moves in structure being made for the adaptation. In place of making a safe adaptation, the creatives of the television show have instead presented everything chronologically, enabling a more cohesive storyline. This has worked greatly in their favour, constructing a story that is arguably more compelling than the source material in terms of pacing.

    The Little Prince (2015)

    The Little Prince has been turned into a Netflix animated feature, boasting the voice talents of stars such as Jeff Bridges and Ricky Gervais. Director Mark Osborne taps into the key components of what made the original story so great, but also boldly expands upon the source material. New characters and plotlines are introduced, but instead of confusing the plot, every addition adds something wonderful.

    The original story of the aviator features, but now there’s another plot running alongside it set in the modern day. Now elderly, the aviator befriends the wide-eyed child on his street, and relays the story of The Little Prince through the course of their friendship. It’s a fresh take for sure, and it’s heart-warming to see the effects of the source material play out out on screen.

    The quality of the animation and storytelling could easily rival a feature from Pixar, and it’s quite surprising to see that this film did not receive too much global attention. However, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s heartfelt and charming tale is perfectly represented here, so we absolutely recommend a viewing!

    The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

    Chances are you’ve heard of The Lord of the Rings just like most other people, but it’s absolutely deserving of a mention on this list. It’s a tale of courage, friendship, and unlikely heroes, with universal themes that can resonate with fantasy and non-fantasy fans alike. Director Peter Jackson masterfully adapted J.R.R Tolkien’s original work, with the trilogy of films receiving numerous prestigious awards.

    Tolkien’s work with language and world-building is well documented, and it’s all on visceral display in the cinematic trilogy too. There’s a real sense of thriving cultures and lived-in worlds with these films, as well as characters who’re continually three dimensional and who behave well outside of conventional tropes. The entire story is a poignant journey for the characters and the viewers alike.

    It’s also worth noting that adapting The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King is a huge undertaking. Between the 1137 pages of novels, appendices, indexes and prologues, there’s an enormous amount of information to put on screen in two to three-hour bursts. To tell a compelling story with all that material is a feat within itself and is compulsory viewing if you’re studying how to adapt texts with finesse.

    You can also see some recommendations from the BBC, by clicking here

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    I'm a freelance copywriter with an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I've written for many different outlets, including but not limited to marketing agencies, graduate recruitment websites, and online training companies. I've even interviewed a few famous actors for student and arts blogs too! Covering a wide span of material has been incredibly rewarding, as I get to turn my experiences in the arts, education and careers into helpful advice. I sincerely hope you'll find something to your liking here!