Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Brief thoughts on film adaptations of classic literature

1/ A new BBC adaptation of Les Miserables is coming out.

I’ve just realised I’ve seen 3 adaptations:
- The 1998 version, dir. Bille August, with Liam Neeson. I don’t remember it very well, but remember thinking that it was excellent.
- The 2012 musical, dir. Tom Hooper, with Hugh Jackman. A great adaptation.
- If I remember correctly, I’ve also seen the 2000 French miniseries, dir. Josée Dayan, with Gerard Depardieu.
Might as well watch this one, though I’ll probably hate it because it’s by Andrew Davies.
My general impression is that there are good adaptations of Les Miserables, unlike Anna Karenina or Wuthering Heights, but perhaps I’m wrong—I haven’t read Victor Hugo’s book.

2/ I’ve seen 5 adaptations of Anna Karenina:
- 1935, dir. Clarence Brown, with Greta Garbo. American.
- 1948, dir. Julien Duvivier, with Vivien Leigh. British.
- 1967, dir. Aleksandr Zarkhi, with Tatiana Samoilova. Russian.
- 1997, dir. Bernard Rose, with Sophie Marceau. American.
- 2012, dir. Joe Wright, with Keira Knightley. British.
Probably the work I followed the most obsessively. I either saw all 5 adaptations before reading Tolstoy book, or saw 4 of them, and watched the Sophie Marceau version whilst reading.
So far none of the Anna Karenina adaptations is good—Greta Garbo looks too hard and imposing, Vivien Leigh doesn’t look right even though I love her, Tatiana Samoilova has a moustache, Sophie Marceau looks right but can’t act, and Keira Knightley is too bony and too sure of herself to be Anna; at the same time, the early adaptations tend to portray Karenin as a monster, whilst the 2012 one portray him as too good, too nice, and too good-looking (Jude Law), whereas the character in the book is a lot more complicated.
I’d like to see the 1977 series with Nicola Pagett, the 1985 version with Jacqueline Bisset, and the 2013 miniseries with Vittoria Puccini. Currently most interested in the 2013 version because, if we ignore the fact that she’s supposed to look Russian, Vittoria Puccini seems to have the right look for Anna. 

3/ Haven’t seen any adaptation of War and Peace.

4/ I’ve seen 3 adaptations of Jane Eyre:
- 1996, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, with Charlotte Gainsbourg.
- 2006, TV, dir. Susanna White, with Ruth Wilson.
- 2011, dir. Cary Fukunaga, with Mia Wasikowska.
The 1996 was a failure, partly because of the changes and partly because of Charlotte Gainsbourg (one of the actresses I most hate), but I liked William Hurt in it.
The best one is 2006.
The 2011 version receives lots of praise, but it’s overrated—I have never thought highly of Mia Wasikowska as an actress, and Michael Fassbender can act with his face and body but never his voice, it is always monotonous and devoid of feeling. I remember laughing at the outburst scene at the cinema, when Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) confessed her feelings.
If you want a Jane Eyre film with feeling, watch the 2006 version.

5/ Officially, I’ve only seen 2 films based on Wuthering Heights:
- 1970, dir. Robert Fuest, with Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton. Incomplete adaptation. 
- 1992, dir. Peter Kosminsky, with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes.
In the 1992 film, Ralph Fiennes has the qualities for Heathcliff, but Juliette Binoche lacks the fire, wildness, and savagery of Cathy—much as I like her in other films, she looks too nice and sweet for the role.
I may or may not have seen another one.
Other adaptations don’t interest me at all, because the casting just doesn’t look right, which is probably the hardest thing about adapting Wuthering Heights. I mean, Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff? Or black Heathcliff? Or Tom Hardy as Heathcliff with Charlotte Riley as Cathy? Nah.
Right now the only version I’m mildly interested in is the Luis Bunuel one.

6/ I’ve seen 2 films based on Sense and Sensibility:
- 1995, dir. Ang Lee, with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.
- 2008, TV, dir. John Alexander, with Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.
The 2008 version is very good, but it is sexed up, which is something you expect when it’s written by Andrew Davies.
I love the 1995 film, and I love how Emma Thompson shifts the balance from Sense (as in Jane Austen’s novel) to Sensibility.

7/ I’ve seen 3 adaptations of Emma:
- 1996 film version, dir. Douglas McGrath, with Gwyneth Paltrow.
- 1996 TV version, dir. Diarmuid Lawrence, with Kate Beckinsale.
- Clueless (1995), the modernisation of Emma, dir. Amy Heckerling, with Alicia Silverstone.
Both of the 1996 adaptations are good, especially the TV version because of Kate Beckinsale, but nothing beats Clueless. I see Clueless as one of the best teen films, and one of the best loose adaptations of a literary work. Amy Heckerling moves the setting to high school in modern day America, whilst retaining the spirit of Jane Austen’s novel. It is a great work.

8/ With Pride and Prejudice, I don’t remember the Keira Knightley version (2005) and couldn’t finish the Jennifer Ehle version (1995).
I have always hold a personal grudge against the 1995 version, because Andrew Davies does lots of harm to the understanding of Jane Austen, by creating a charming and handsome Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) and leading to massive misconceptions of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen’s works in general.
I also believe that the lack of understanding of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen’s views on men and relationships contributes to the misunderstanding of Mansfield Park.
I will not talk about Bridget Jones's Diary, nor the 1999 version of Mansfield Park with Frances O’Connor. Let’s pretend they didn’t exist. 

9/ I’ve seen 3 adaptations of Great Expectations:
- 1946, dir. David Lean, with John Mills as Pip, Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson as Estella, and Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham.
- 1998, modernisation, dir. Alfonso Cuaron, with Ethan Hawke as Pip (now called Finn) and Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella.
- 2012, dir. Mike Newell, with Jeremy Irvine as Pip, Holliday Grainger as Estella, and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
I have a vague feeling of having seen the 1999 version with Ioan Gruffudd, but am not sure.
Of these films, the best one is the David Lean film, but the Mike Newell has some good moments, especially with Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
The 1998 film is forgettable. I have always maintained that a modernised Great Expectations would be The Great Gatsby.

10/ Up till now, I haven’t seen any of the Dracula or Frankenstein films, except for Brides of Dracula, which isn’t really an adaptation anyway.
Updated at 5:30pm: I have seen the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Not a fan. 


It turns out that, after all, I don’t dislike film adaptations. In fact, with certain works, I keep watching different versions and compare. Each adaptation is a new take on the work, and another chance to go through the story and live with the characters again.

No comments:

Post a Comment