Film, play or book?

I recently went to see The Woman in Black at the cinema. I read the book and saw the play a long time ago. I also remember a television version which was extremely scary!

This film version starring Daniel Radcliffe (he of Harry Potter fame) was even more scary and most enjoyable.  It did however take certain liberties with the text – particularly in terms of the ending. My suspicion is that the Hollywood desire for a ‘happy ending’ insofar as that is possible with this story, shaped the ending which for me did not ring true, and seemed out of sync with the rest of the film. My understanding is that Susan Hill the author was not too thrilled with the ending, and that they tried out several versions. How faithful should films be to a text?

Films of books are often less than satisfactory – I could name countless films that for me were pale imitations of the novels they were based on. Obviously film faces certain constraints that one’s imagination doesn’t! And if the film version contradicts your expectations it’s a real disappointment. However, there are exceptions. Here are a few of my favourites which I feel measure up well.


The Harry Potter films.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman – an interesting example where the book poses the problem of having alternate endings. The film used the play within a play technique to resolve this and to even provide another dimension. Mind you, having a top class playwright (Harold Pinter) do the adaptation probably helps!

And what about War Horse? It is based on a children’s story which became an amazing play with horse puppets (although that word hardly does justice to them). The play was absolutely sensational and I have to admit that I have put off watching the Hollywood take on the story. And, ok, I admit it – as a horse lover I’d rather sob in the privacy of my own home than in a crowded cinema, so I’m waiting for the DVD.

One of the assessment pieces set for English GCSE is a film review and it is one that most pupils quite enjoy. They have to consider all the film techniques employed as well as produce an effective piece of writing. Discussing the possibilities and the restrictions of this genre is an interesting aspect.

Are there any films which are better than the original text? Any suggestions?


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