Books to Film Done Right

Words: Chelsea Haith
Images: Sourced

Tim Robbins has just crawled through about a ton of human waste to escape Shawshank Prison, where he was unfairly imprisoned for the murders of his wife and her lover years before. It’s raining and he’s being washed clean in the downpour, arms outstretched in a mixture of joy, despair and the thrill of liberty. He also seems grateful in the same way that book lovers the world over feel when Hollywood does right by their favourite books. Here is a list of books that are honoured in their film adaptations.

  1. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption – Stephen King

Topping off the list of course is Frank Darabont’s film The Shawshank Redemption. The story line for the film is taken from a novella by Stephen King, originally titled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The actress’ name is a reference to the posters that Andy Dufresne, Tim Robbin’s character, used to hide his excavations. The novella is short and in some ways, perhaps due to the film’s success and obvious appeal, less enjoyable. Interestingly, King’s novella is based on another short story, Leo Tolstoy’s ‘God Sees the Truth, But Waits’, also obviously about a man wrongfully accused of murder.

  1. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

While Tolstoy’s War and Peace has also been adapted to film, it was the 2012 version of Leo Tolstoy’s drama Anna Karenina that surprised audiences with its interesting representation of the classic story of the impossible and doomed love of married countess Anna and her lover Count Vronsky. The 2012 film adaptation directed by Joe Wright presents the story as a stage play, the scene changes and cuts shifting like stage changes, Wright using stage and film as dual mediums in his retelling of the story in the beautifully shot and immaculately costumed film.

  1. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

In 1995 Emma Thompson wrote (and won an Oscar for) the screenplay for the film adaptation of what is estimated to be Jane Austen’s second novel, originally titled Elinor and Marianne, what was to become Sense and Sensibility. Thompson also starred as Elinor in the film, directed by Ang Lee. Austen’s books are darlings of the screen and the BBC has been making mini-series of the novels since Colin Firth stole the hearts of British women in the 5-hour-long Pride and Prejudice, also released in 1995.

  1. The Green Mile – Stephen King

Fortunately or unfortunately, Stephen King had to make a reappearance on this list because the film adaptation of The Green Mile was just too good to leave off of this list. John Coffey is a character that stays with you long after you’ve shelved the novel and Michael Clarke Duncan’s portrayal of the misunderstood ‘criminal’ on death row reaches into your chest and wraps heavy ropes around your heart. Tom Hanks isn’t bad in it either.


  1. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris

This seminal film in the thriller and drama genre was taken from Thomas Harris’ novel The Silence of the Lambs, the sequel to Red Dragon, published in 1988. The film, released in 1991, was faithful to the novel and Anthony Hopkins proved to be the perfect casting for the thoroughly evil and intensely fascinating and charming Hannibal Lecter. The novel was succeeded by the third in the trilogy, simply titled Hannibal. Hannibal was made into a film in 2001 and Red Dragon followed in 2002, with minor casting deviations; Clarice was played by Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs but was replaced with Julianne Moore in Hannibal.

  1. The Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

Seven books spanning a decade from 1997 to 2007 and eight films, released between 2001 and 2011, comprise the Harry Potter series that ushered in a new generation of serialised book-to-film adaptations, sparking Narnia, Twilight and The Hunger Games. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have come to embody JK Rowling’s characters in an unprecedented way, stretching over the years to fill the shoes of the Harry, Ron and Hermione’s in the imaginations of the young men and women that grew up with them.

  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

While the film does exclude some details from this magnificent coming-of-age novel, the after effect of the film and novel are the same: you are left with a sense that while there is a lot that is wrong with the world, there are also some things that are right. Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Patrick is glorious and he shines, almost brighter than Emma Watson’s Sam. Watson is far too good-girl-pretty to play that character, but never mind, she needed something with which to break the Harry Potter stereotype and she did it with aplomb in Perks. Logan Lerman, who seems an odd choice given all of his Percy Jackson work, turned out to the perfect Charlie, revealing all of the awkward, lonely and goofy aspects of the experiences of a deeply troubled teen honestly and poignantly.

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

Published in 2005, the first of the Millennium trilogy, which Larsson wrote before his suspicious death late in 2004, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is brutal, cinematic and thought-provoking. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, all three published posthumously and translated from the original Swedish for the international audience, at which point the books became international best-sellers. The adaptation of the first film was released in 2009 under the Swedish title Flickan som lekte med elden. The Swedish versions of the films are honest, less corrupted by the demands of Hollywood and the commercial market and are therefore well worth it for those film fanatics that don’t mind reading subtitles.


Honourable mentions too good to leave off the list:

  1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
  2. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  3. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  4. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  5. Papillon – Henri Charrière