Book to screen: The best and the worst

We’ve all said it haven’t we? When we’ve left a cinema or watched a DVD. “It was good but it’s not as good as the book”.

Yes, Hollywood does have a thirst for buying up the rights to successful films and once the script has been written, usually by a different writer, and been reviewed by countless people, we are left with a totally different prospect than the world the author created for us.

Jasper Fforde, creator of wonderful universes, was asked once whether he would see his books being made into films and he questioned whether that should be the end goal for authors, he accepted that this will bring in the cash but there is also a lot to be said for guarding your legacy.

I thought I would have a look at five times, for me, Hollywood ruined a perfectly good story.

The Time Traveller’s Wife

I absolutely adored this book, it actually made me shed a tear at the end. The characters were grungy and wonderful and you couldn’t help but fall in love with their love. Now I will admit to watching the film version on a plane which is never the perfect viewing scenario but I was dismayed at the sanitisation that had gone on. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams were the stars and made the characters impossibly beautiful and clean. As for chemistry, I’ve seen more in a school laboratory than between these two. It was a terrible miss for me.

His Dark Materials

The His Dark Materials trilogy should have been movie gold. An original, breathtaking plot with magic, other worlds and fabulous characters. We didn’t get past the first film, The Golden Compass. The religious undertone of these stories was always going to be a dodgy prospect for Hollywood and it appeared they baulked and literally sucked the soul out of the story.

The saving grace for this was Nicole Kidman as icy Mrs Coulter. She was fantastic. Not so much for poor old Daniel Craig I’m afraid.

Apparently the BBC are going to have another stab at it, let’s hope they do Pullman’s stories justice because there should be a brilliant production in there in the right hands.

The Millennium Series

When The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out, the world was literally taken by storm. Anti-hero Lisbeth Salandar found her way into the heart of so many readers. It’s not really fair to say that film didn’t do justice for these books as the Swedish company Yellow Bird did some wonderful productions, launching the career of Noomi Rapace in the process.

In grand tradition, Hollywood decided this wasn’t good enough and created a hugely lame adaptation that, like His Dark Materials, didn’t make it past the first film. Interestingly this also starred Daniel Craig, great work with Bond Mr C but please leave our favourite books alone.

They aren’t resting on their laurels and new book by a new writer, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is due for release with the very proper Claire Foy distancing herself from her breakout role as Queen Elizabeth II in dramatic way by taking on Salandar. This could go one of two ways.

Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka

Anyone who takes on the titan that is Roald Dahl had better make sure they have a seriously good script. Burton breathed new life into classic Alice in Wonderland so surely this was in safe hands? Wrong. The script turned it into some weird saccharine sweet story around Wonka just wanting the love of a good family. Johnny Depp was forgettable as Wonka, doing his usual zany routine and Burton’s production was formulaic.

Wuthering Heights

It’s an almost two hundred year old story but no-one has ever really played Heathcliff well. Ralph Fiennes, Laurence Oliver and….erm….Cliff Richard have all had a go at the orphan boy who became a psychopath. None of them had the balls to play him for what he is, a cruel spurned lover intent on revenge no matter the cost.


Maybe I have been a bit hard on the screen industry. There must be some books that have fared better. Well yes, there are some that have leant themselves to screen adaptations so well that they surpass the reading experience. Yes it’s true.

Game of Thrones

A seeming cast of thousands and an erratic plot made juggling all the characters from Westeros very difficult in your head. I needed the visual recognition to be able to keep track of all the story elements and the production values on Game of Thrones is second to none so I will definitely say that the screen version of this epic is preferable.

Harry Potter Series

This is a tie. I loved the books and was nervous going into the first film, would it be a total crash or would it work. Oh how it worked. The films got better and better and the casting hit the mark every single time although I still maintain Celia Imrie would have made a better Rita Skeeter.


Another tie. I loved this book and read it in a couple of days so again it was with trepidation that I sat down to watch the film but I needn’t have worried. The claustrophobia of the story was captured perfectly and the performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay were so bang on the money you couldn’t help but be lost in the story.

The Hunger Games

Even reading the books you couldn’t help but think that a film franchise was in the back of the writer’s mind. It was so visual and the world so easy to access in your mind, writing the script must have been an absolute joy. We were presented with, for me, the perfect cinematic companion to these books.

Room With A View

I find E.M. Forster so insufferably dull as a writer that Room With A View, Howard’s End and Maurice can only be viewed on the screen. Nothing would persuade me to even attempt to read another one after literally bribing myself with chocolate to finish Howard’s End. They were also made in one of the golden ages of British cinema by the dream time Merchant Ivory so why wouldn’t you treat yourself to a two hour period drama on a rainy Sunday afternoon?

Those are my hits and misses from the screen. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. I absolutely agree about Wuthering Heights, it is one of my two favourite books (the other is Jane Eyre) and I watch every adaptation to see if they have got it. It has never matched the book even remotely.


  2. I still think Laurence Olivier is Heathcliff with hidden darkness and cruelty. We are not sure what could be behind those dark eyes.


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