Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Film Adaptations of my Favourite Books by Val Tyler

I think some novels can be made into excellent films; others not. In my opinion, the best film-makers have writers who adapt the original text whilst keeping the story close to the original. Sometimes I like the changes that are made and sometime I do not.

I thought the changes made by Robert Nelson Jacobs to Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, and Tony Morphett’s TV adaptation of D’Arcy Niland’s The Shiralee worked exceptionally well. Both are well worth watching. But when it comes to Harry Potter, I find reading the books a better experience than viewing the films – of course, this is entirely personal preference.

Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche in Chocolat

Bryan Brown and Rebecca Smart in The Shiralee

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliff

Naturally, it’s easy to have a fixed view when I only know one adaptation of each book. When it comes to the classics, there are so many that a definitive opinion might be more difficult.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over seeing Mrs Bennet and her daughters running down the street, screaming and showing their knees in that peculiar 1940s Hollywood adaptation. To a lesser extent, I was exasperated to watch Margaret Schlegel and Aunt Juley walking down a London street hatless. I can never quite work out whether the film makers are simply lazy or have a shallow notion of what makes a story relatable to a modern audience.

Greer Garson with her family in Pride and Prejudice.
Check out those weird costumes.

It is probably unfair to dwell on that awful Pride and Prejudice when we have Colin Firth’s amazing version (adapted by the magnificent Andrew Davies) and, despite the hatless scene, I have enjoyed Howard’s End (adapted by Kenneth Lonergan) that has just finished on TV.

This is more like it. BBC's 1995 wonderful adaptation.

 Hayley Atwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Tracey Ullman in Howard's End (BBC)

One tale has to be mentioned in December. A Christmas Carol has, arguably, been adapted more often than any other story, and a whole load of nonsense has been written about it too. I would like to confront one right now. Charles Dickens did not invent Christmas, as the title of the new film tells us. His wonderful story, teaching Ebenezer to value human beings more than money, is set at Christmas time, but is not about Christmas. The setting is what Dickens observed in his own day. Inventive as the characters and plot may be, his depiction of Christmas is not.

Michael Caine with the Muppets in The Muppets' Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is one of the few Dickens’ novels that I have read several times. I have, on the other hand, seen The Muppets’ Christmas Carol every Christmas for the last twenty years. I find I sometimes muddle what Mr Dickens wrote with dear old Kermit. These days I cannot read the line, ‘…and to Tiny Tim, who did not die,’ without hearing Gonzo’s strongly American inflection.

But I do know the original story was not big on present-giving. The only present given was an enormous turkey to the Cratchit family. Michael Caine handing around presents at the end of the Muppets’ film was most definitely added by the Hensons.

Dickens was only suggesting that people should show good will towards each other at Christmas and, as Ebenezer is totally out of step with the rest of society, I’m guessing Dickens did not invent that. He popularised snow at Christmas, something I am told usually happened back then, but he did not invent it. He simply relayed Christmas as he knew it and in such an enchanting (and short) way that it’s still eminently readable today.

I find it interesting that the nativity is never mentioned in the book. Recently, I heard a man on the radio talking about A Christmas Carol and he referred to ‘the other Christmas story’. It took me a moment to realise he was referring to the nativity. It has become the ‘other Christmas Story’, the implication being that A Christmas Carol is the real one, or at least the one that matters. I think Dickens would have liked that, I’m not too sure about the church...

I like to think that our family knows ‘how to keep Christmas well’ and I hope it is not too early to be one of those idiots ‘who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips’ while hoping not to ‘be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,’ to wish you all very merry this Christmas.


Anne Booth said...

That made me smile. 'The Muppets Christmas Carol' is a big family favourite in our home too - my son has just come home from university and has asked when would it be the right time to start watching it again! I haven't seen the new Dickens film yet and am looking forward to it. I have never really thought about Dickens' relationship with religion - I must look it up. And I am definitely going to avoid the first filmed version of 'Pride and Prejudice' you referred to! I hope you have a very Happy Christmas too!

Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks Val. I too love the Muppets version and Michael Caine does it so well. It was also really interesting to look at the idea of Christmas Carol being the 'first' Christmas story. With all the messages you mention and others besides, the idea is very appealing, especially at the moment. Donald Trump would be a suitable Scrooge for Muppet therapy!

Lynne Benton said...

What a great post, Val - and I do so agree about the 1940's version of "Pride and Prejudice". The Victorian costumes screamed at me when I saw it! And how interesting that "A Christmas Carol" is considered (in some eyes, at least) as being as valid a representation of Christmas as the nativity. Very thought-provoking.