Books To Movies: My Five Favourite Adaptations

Brian Finnegan, Director of Free With Words shares his five favourite movies based on classic books.

My first novel, The Forced Redundancy Film Club, was about a group of work colleagues who formed a film club, where they screened their favourite movies and their lives changed in tandem with the films they watched. With that in mind, I've picked my five favourite book-to-film adaptations of all time.

I always approach the film adaptation of a book I love with trepidation. There’s nothing quite as disappointing when the screen version gets it badly wrong, and no matter how you might love a director or certain actors, you can never be guaranteed what you’re going to get. Peter Jackson may have blown us away with his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but then he went and took the heart out of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones with directorial overkill. Rachael McAdams might have sparkled in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, but she stank in the shockingly bad movie version of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife.

With good viewing for the avid reader in mind, I’ve picked what I think are the five best book-to-film adaptations of all time, in descending order. I’d love to hear your suggestions too!

5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Ronald Neame, 1969)

I think Maggie Smyth’s performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a thing of genius and beauty. Her portrayal of the tragically and mistakenly idealistic teacher, whose girls are the crème de la crème, not only deliciously brings Muriel Spark’s original character to life, but also adds another layer of loneliness and desperation to her. It’s one of those rare adaptations where the film eclipses the book.

4. The Cider House Rules (Lasse Hallstrom, 1999)

Perhaps The Cider House Rules is a perfect adaptation because the book’s author was allowed to pen the screenplay (whereas he didn’t get the chance to write the mediocre film adaptations of The World According To Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire). Michael Caine’s supporting performance is a big pull, but the greatest thing about The Cider House Rules is that it translates Irving’s narrative voice perfectly into the film medium. The experience of seeing it is exactly the same as reading the book. There are lots of characters and storylines taken out, of course, but instead of missing them, you understand why their omission makes the film even better. It is a modern Dickensian adaptation of a modern Dickensian book.