‘Not as good as the book,’ scoffed Madam Snooty, like she’d written it. Books & films/movies, for better or for worse – the befores & afters…

Welcome, as always, to my last blog post of the year, accompanied by a promise of 1000s to come throughout 2018. Certainly more regularly.

And for my regular readers, those of you having been patient enough to read my posts on the five books I claim to have changed my life, followed accordingly by five such films/movies, well, here I’d like not only to add something further to those posts, but to compare each medium dealing with the same piece of work as a story; the same script: the book version, and the film/movie version.

In this post I’m going to offer you five films/movies I deem to be greater than their forerunners, their original book version, some by far.

And why might I prefer to do it that way around?

Well, however fascinating the subject may be, I believe it to be one out of which filmmakers tend to get a raw deal.

I confess, also, to having developed over the years a slight aversion to the book snob. You know the type; you possibly are one, as I no doubt am too. I’m not sure we can help ourselves:

‘Oh, darling, the book’s much better than the film/movie!’

I mean, why not just add ‘You’ll be fine once you’ve learned to read’, and have done with it?

And what naturally follows with regard to book snobbery, I’m positive, is an actual fear of being ostracized, cast out of one’s regular, ‘cultivated’ circle like some social leper, but for having openly declared the unthinkable:

‘Well, I actually prefer the film/movie version’ – eternal shame!

Do you know, dear reader, that I’ve yet to hear anyone confess to such? They’d get a big kiss from me, I can tell you; I’m not particular.

Before offering my five such films/movies, which I consider to be far superior to their book versions, I’d just like to say that, with each, I’ve been able to whittle it down to a simple case of, in my case, the film/movie having come before the book; I’ve read the book after seeing the film/movie.

But if we’re so moved by a book, how can anything ever compare?

Well, surely that works both ways. And hence the book snobbery: that s/he may be as uncouth as to have encountered the film/movie before the literary opus…

Here are my five such films/movies, in no particular order:

1: The Railway Children.

Directed by Lionel Jeffries and starring Dinah Sheridan, Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Bernard Cribbins, The Railway Children may make claim to having moved the toughest of cinema going males to tears on Bobbie’s ‘Daddy, my daddy!’; on her being reunited with her wrongly imprisoned father, amid the mist of a steam railway station platform. E. Nesbit’s novel, a children’s novel, cannot be compared with what Jeffries achieved, without which the book would have fallen into obscurity, I’m sure…


2: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Directed by Karel Reis and starring Albert Finney, Shirley Anne Field and Rachel Roberts, comes the 1960 film adaption of Alan Sillitoe’s eponymous debut novel. Whenever I watch this coming-of-age classic, set in the raw, industrial North of England, in the midst of the ‘British New Wave’, a new gritty realism, the “kitchen sink” genre, I’m able to appreciate what Reis’ direction achieved.The film script reads better than the novel, is like a perfect edit, freed of the superfluity I found in Sillitoe’s literary intro…


3: The Dresser.

Adapted from Ronald Harwood’s successful 1980 play, The Dresser, directed by Peter – ‘Shakespeare’ – Yates and released in ’83, The film hits home on a number of levels: its wonderfully comic moments, and lines, particularly between Finney and Courtney, actor and dresser; the pervasive sense of pathos running throughout, which is almost tangible.

The play is a funny one, but Finney and Courtney perfect it in film…


4: The War of the Worlds.

Directed by Byron Haskin and starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, this 1953 American movie is a somewhat loose adaption of H. G. Wells’ 1897 classic of the same name, and I feel that the novel is at times a needlessly, laboriously drawn out affair, whereas the movie adaption, considered to be an allegory of the Cold War, appears to just improve with age. Atmospheric to say the least, and totally unreplicable…



5: The Last of the Mohicans.

Directed by Michael Mann, the 1992 movie is based, again loosely, on James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel, again of the same name, and is based in the Americas during the Anglo-French colonial war. The film outshines the novel on a whole series of levels, particular in its magnificent conveyance of such qualities, in time of war, as blind loyalty and betrayal; of courage and cowardice; and greed and generosity. Another perfect example of how to edit a book through film…


So there you have it. I could go on, could have made my list much, much longer. But you don’t deserve that.

What I’d love from you, however, if ever you have a moment, is to tell of such film/movie adaptations you may have preferred to their literary geneses.

Until then, all the very best for 2018.


your literary, theatrical friend

8 thoughts on “‘Not as good as the book,’ scoffed Madam Snooty, like she’d written it. Books & films/movies, for better or for worse – the befores & afters…

  1. Totally agree with you both on the Last of The Mohicans example – much too much going on in the book really. As with lots of “epic” novels, I think the author gets bogged down in trying to illustrate the “big picture” as well as tell the story of the individual characters. I guess it is also a matter of taste, as Cooper’s novel also falls into the massively (over?) descriptive style which was so typical of its’ time….but yes, as you so eloquently put it, the film does manage to distill the essence of the book very very well.

    I am struggling to think of films I prefer over books, but I think that is mainly to do with the fact that I often read the books first, or have seen the films and not read the book at all – as with “The Time Machine” – I love the Guy Pierce film, although I am told it is quite far removed from the HG Wells novel, which I haven’t read…..must read it.

    I confess I do generally fall into the former category – I often don’t enjoy films if i have read the book – this goes way back to my huge disappointment when I saw “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” with Gene Wilder. This was a treat provided by my Grandad and his newly acquired colour tv and VCR – Lovely thought, but I hated the film!

    A book I did very much enjoy this year was “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent, which apparently has been made into a film, so will try to catch that one. But will try to approach with an open mind.

    In some cases, I think the film version does compare favourably with the book. A couple of years ago, I read Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” and then bought the film, which I enjoyed equally. As an adult, it is easier to appreciate the limitations as well as possibilities of each media, which maybe (hopefully) makes us less judgemental? As children, we are often much more inflexible and more easily disappointed.

    • Great response.

      And yes, I feel as if Fenimoore Cooper’s acting the scapegoat a bit here, because, as you rightly state, it was written Romanticism – eventually moving onto the grossly exaggerated ‘realism’ period. And I think the real sign of its quality is its having been adapted into children’s literature as well as a TV series, if I remember rightly…

      Interesting, what you’ve said about the H. G. Wells classic, too. I’ve read The Time Machine a number of times, I love it 0- in fact I may have reviewed it on amazon. But I also love the two film adaptations you’ve mentioned, in their own right: one from 1960 and one from the 00s. Very interesting takes, particularly the second, whereas the first is beautifully atmospheric…

      As for your Roald Dahl adaptations, I can’t agree more. The Gene Wilder isn’t for me, but the
      Johnny Depp is many times worse than that: it drove me crazy watching it 😀 Give me the book any day…

      I’ll take your word for Burial Rites as I haven’t done either. But will!

      But as for The Life of PI, I’ve seen the film only, so that should be very interesting.

      Thank you for that 🙂

    • Absolutely, Christoph.

      Funny, I’ve come to appreciate Austin a lot more as I’ve gotten older, but I still prefer her stuff either in film or on the stage.

      Cheers, my friend 🙂

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