ITV’s announcement last week that a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is in development only left me with one thought: Why?
I don’t doubt the ability of the producers (who worked on Poldark and Victoria) to make a compelling adaptation, but it just feels incredibly unnecessary. This will be the novel’s sixth time being adapted for television, not including the various other formats the novel has taken in film, theatre etc. There’s not a lot that can be improved on, with all versions offering something different, and having strengths and weaknesses in their approach to the text. It feels like a desperate move to secure good ratings, and it got me thinking about all the other books that deserve adaptations, old and new.
We are lucky that in recent years, and even this year alone, more and more fantastic novels are receiving the television treatment, American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, Anne With an E being some of the high-profile ones, and the BBC and ITV having more adaptations in the works, from Vanity Fair, Little Women, The Woman in White. Netflix has also just released a trailer for Alias Grace, and Sharp Objects being done for HBO. I hope this trend continues, and that the novels I discuss will eventually be seen on TV.
I’ve split them up into classics and modern novels, with some of my choices already having received adaptations, and others not at all.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
There was no way this was not going to be on my list. This has been adapted for television twice, in 1968 and 1996. I’ve only managed to watch the 1996 version, and as much as I like it, it is a bit dated now. I would have liked for them to develop the supporting characters, and to have stuck closer to the ending of the novel, especially with the Gilbert and Helen scenes. The relevance of the novel is still just as strong today, and a three or four-hour long adaptation would do the novel justice, but I would take anything to be honest. Between Gilbert’s perspective, and the flashbacks to Helen’s marriage with Huntingdon, the novel has more than enough great and important material to cover. This novel deserves all the love and appreciation, and a new adaptation would be a great way of attracting a new audience to Anne Brontë’s work.
There is hope for a new adaptation, as writer of Brontë drama To Walk Invisible Sally Wainwright said at an event that she hopes to adapt the novel for Anne’s bicentenary in 2020, so fingers crossed.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
If producers are determined to adapt a Jane Austen novel, then please can they consider Jane Austen’s underrated last novel? Critically, it has been named Austen’s finest novel, but has yet to attract the same attention in the media that Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility does. While at first glance Persuasion might not seem in need of a new adaptation, considering the four versions that exist already, however none of these have lived up to the greatness of the novel. The 1995 and 2007 versions are worth watching, with the 1995 version especially sticking to the novel and portraying the Anne and Wentworth relationship beautifully. The 2007 film doesn’t feel as dated, and has great casting, but loses its standing in my eyes for messing up the ending and the reunion of Anne and Wentworth. The main issue I have with these versions is that are simply not long enough. Jane Austen’s novels normally get adapted for television, allowing time to develop the story, and make the characters and their relationships feel convincing, and giving time for the story to breathe and then build up to reach its satisfying conclusion. They need more than an hour and a half to tell the story, and this is where the previous versions fall short, good as they are. Anne Elliot is a heroine that is too good for the world, and the relationship between her and Captain Wentworth deserves the build-up and that beautifully understated reunion (without the added running).
Villette and Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
I sadly haven’t read either of these books, though they are on my to read list. Even so, it amazes me that with the popularity of Jane Eyre, that producers have not attempted adapting Charlotte’s other novels. There is apparently a lost version of Villette out there somewhere, but neither novel has a version available to watch. I don’t know the details of either novel, but enough about the basic plots to understand that there’s not anything so off-putting to explain its absence on the screen. Villette especially is considered to be Charlotte’s greatest work, and Charlotte herself is still loved and respected all these years on. While the ratings for Villette or Shirley probably wouldn’t be as high as a Jane Eyre miniseries, her work has been loved long enough to warrant her other novels being able to shine on the screen.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
This is one of my favourite books, and one that I physically couldn’t put down until I finished it. I cried reading this book, and shouted to it and nearly threw it across the room at points, so yeah, it left me pretty emotional. Khaled Hosseini is a beautiful and heart-breaking writer, and his earlier novel The Kite Runner has been adapted into a film. A Thousand Splendid Suns is in my opinion his best novel, focused on two women in 20th century Afghanistan. It is shocking and brutal, yet the mother daughter type relationship between the two protagonists helps create a story about love and friendship. There are a lot of time jumps in the book from what I can remember, which might make it trickier than some to adapt, but no enough to hinder a brilliant adaptation. A film would work, but I think a television version would again allow more time for the audience to connect with the story, and for all the different years and parts of the story to play out at the correct pace, and to prevent certain parts of the novel being rushed. Columbia Pictures owns the rights to the novel, but has had them for a long time and there’s no sign of a film yet, so here’s hoping there’s a development in the next couple of years.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I’m not clear on the status of the novel’s rights currently. The rights to the novel have been bought and nothing has materialized as of yet, but I’ve seen it written somewhere that the rights are now back with Donna Tartt, who has no refused to give them away again, though I can’t confirm that officially Regardless this book was made to be on television. Set on a college campus between six close-knit students and opening the novel with a murder, It’s dying to be a Netflix series. I remember being in awe of Donna Tartt’s writing when reading this book, and I would love to see this book on-screen, especially if it was done in a beautiful, artistic way like HBO’s Big Little Lies.
Let me know if there are any books you think should be adapted for television!