When I was chatting to a fellow writer the other day, she confessed to playing one of those games that regularly does the rounds on social media: she was ‘casting’ her novel. If you haven’t done this, it involves choosing the ideal actor to play the protagonist of your story.
I can never bring myself to do this. Apart from the sheer futility of it – I’m sure David Tennant is not looking for work at this time – there’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea. Although my characters’ personalities are well-known to me, their faces are something of a blur. Putting a real person’s face to them would somehow limit them and what I can do with them.
This may be just one reason why I rarely find a screen adaptation of a book that makes me happy – the actor is never how I imagined the character. The other frequent problem, a worse crime than poor casting, is the loss of the depth of the writing. I’m not alone: the internet abounds with lists of the worst adaptations of books ever made. A recent article on the ShortList website quoted a range of authors’ responses to the screen versions of their work – P.L. Travers is said to have cried when she saw Walt Disney’s version of Mary Poppins and not in the sentimental way suggested in the recent movie Saving Mr Banks.
I thought I would ask some of the OCA’s scriptwriting students for some of their nominations for best and worst adaptations and I got some interesting responses. Deborah said ‘I was hugely disappointed in the film version of The Time Traveler’s Wife – mainly the casting of Eric Bana as Henry. In my head, Henry was all kinds of strong against his odds but Bana came across as pathetic and weak.’ See – it’s that casting problem again.
On the other hand, Deborah did like the ‘lighter and easier’ ending, which is really interesting because imposing a different ending is often one of the tricks that most offends a book lover.
There’s a lot of interest in the forthcoming Gone Girl film because author Gillian Flynn has admitted to changing the ending. Given that the strength of the story is in its breathtaking plot twists, though, this seems sensible. It means the millions of us who’ve read the book still don’t know how the screen version will turn out.
And here is some excellent advice from student Eleanor: ‘Before I started the Scriptwriting course I would lament, ‘It’s not like the book!’ I would never say that now. I feel that a screen adaptation should be treated as a piece of work entirely separate from the original.
‘If you really love a book and become involved in it, you almost have a film in your head. Someone else’s interpretation can be disconcerting and disappointing, so best to view them separately.’
What are the best screen adaptations of a book? And the worst? Let me know!