Book-to-movie adaptations that don't suck: pt.3 - Best (screen-)play
We’ve reached the third and final part of this miniseries, in which I discuss some great book to movie adaptations. In part 1 we looked at movies that were as good as their book counterpart and in part 2 I gave my opinion on movies that were better than the books. Part 3 is all about the best (screen)play to screen adaptations. Again; in order to qualify for this list, I must have read both the screenplay and have seen the movie or play. This is why some of the obvious ones (like Shakespeare) might be missing: although I have read parts of those plays in my English classes, I’ve never read the full thing in the original language. This was also the hardest list to compile, as scripts and screenplay can be quite a challenge to read. Even if you don’t read the scripts themselves though, I’d absolutely recommend you check out the musicals, plays or films: all are more than worth a watch.
Hamilton (2015) script by Lin-Manuel Miranda This one probably needs the least introduction, purely based on the insane hype it has gotten since it’s Broadway release. All I can add to this is: this was a joy to watch, and an equally great joy to listen to the audiobook of the screenplay. Such a smart and original play, that tackles some important themes in such a delightfully fun and endearing way. This play has an incredible fandom behind it, and for good reason. Don’t take my word for it: just listen to the music, read the script and judge for yourself.
August Osage County (2013) script by Tracy Letts In my opinion, August Osage County is one of the most underrated plays of the past few year, and one of my favorites of all time. It tells the intimate, yet completely tense story of three generations of an Oklahoman family coming together after the disappearance of the family patriarch Beverley. I’ve had the pleasure of performing this play myself a few years ago in the role of Jean, the 15-year old, rebellious teenager who has to watch her entire family escalate into madness over the course of the play. Whilst reading the script I was continuously amazed by the strength depth of character and their interactions that this story contains. The 2013 filmadaptation captures these characters perfectly with an extremely strong cast, including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the lead roles, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin and Chris Cooper in supporting roles. If you’re looking for a strong family drama, or just want to see some incredible acting: this film is a must-see. If you take one recommendation from this list, I’d love for it to be this one.
Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolff (1966) script by Edward Albee
“you are cordially invited to George and Martha’s, for an evening of fun and games…”
By now, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a classic. The movie adaptation may be a bit dated (black and white, and a little longer than your typical Hollywood feature), but it has completely stood the test of time in my opinion. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf focusses on two couples and one night, in which the four play an intense psychological game. It adheres to the classical rule of “unity of place, time and action”, has only 4 characters, and focusses on words more than actions, but is far from boring to watch or read. It’s an absolute marvel of dialogue; smart, snide and packed to the brim with deeper layers. Watching the character interactions unfold is like watching verbal and psychological warfare going on. Martha’s harsh words spray across the room like bullets, while George waits his turn and occasionally fires a snipe-shot back, right where it hurts the most. Honey and Nick are caught in the crossfire, each escalating in their own way as a result. The script contains so much depth despite its small scope, that it’s no surprise it has been called one of the best plays of all time. It can be a little hard to get into, but an absolute classic and must-see for anyone who loves theater. The fact that the 1966 adaptation stars incredible actors Elizabeth Taylor (Martha), Richard Burton (George), Sandy Dennis (Honey) and George Segal (Nick) doesn’t hurt either.
Les Miserables (2012) script by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, based on novel by Victor Hugo
Technically this is cheating: I have not read the full novel, only the musical script as I played in it myself. It is however, a very good play that I doubt needs much introduction. Although the script in itself is good, I feel Les Miserable is a musical that can be very hit or miss. I’ve seen adaptations that I really didn’t enjoy, but also ones that were among my favorites. The 2012 film adaptation has a bit of both especially with regards to the performances. Whilst I cringed at times at the stiff acting and forced vocal performances of Russel Crow, Anne Hattaway, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne really stole the show here.
Last but not least: I can’t tease you guys with the announcement of going to see Fantastic Beasts 2 without following up on it. So as a bonus entry:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them & Crimes of Grindelwald (2016-2018) script by J. K. Rowling
I typically don’t like spin-off series, and didn’t really fall in love with the movie script of Fantastic Beasts when I read it. However, once I was in the movie theater for that first movie, the opening credits rolled and that all too familiar “Hedwigs-theme” played over the Warnerbross logo, my cold heart thawed and I was sold. I can’t possibly be objective about these movies, as they contain so many of my favorite things: the Wizarding World, adorable creatures and Eddie Redmayne playing one of the sweetest and most sensitive male protagonists portrayed in Hollywood productions for a long time. I can’t stress how much I love that last part, and hope that other creators take inspiration from this.
Unfortunately, as most of you will know by now, part two contains a retcon pertaining to Dumbledores history, and I’m not okay with it. Kind of ruined the ending for me, but what can you do… In the end I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a great night watching it. I guess I’m invested in this world, the characters and the story now, and watching a Harry Potter universe film will always feel a little special to me. Retcons and all, I’m looking forwards to part three, even if it’s just to get that little, hypocritical hint of nostalgia. I just can’t help myself…
That concludes my three-part book-to-movie-adaptations that don’t suck series. I hope you enjoyed, and I’d love to hear back from you: what are your favorite movies based on a book?
See you soon, and happy reading!