Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Top 10 Adaptations --- (EDITORIAL)

OK ... this is to kick off Screen Stories good and proper. A bit of a puzzle for myself.
A Top 10 of my favourite adaptations - subject to change (REGULARLY). I should also add that most of these works are mainly post-1990 (or thereabouts), and are generally mainstream, popular fare, as that has been my key research era to date. But I will compile a more in-depth list in the weeks to come which offers some cherished old chestnuts too.

IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER (hey, it's tough enough picking just 10!)

Bleak House (BBC, 2005) - an incredible piece of work from the UK's 'adapter laureate' Andrew Davies, which skillfully reworks Dickens's opus as gripping made-for-TV soap opera. Features some amazing acting performances and slick production values.

Adaptation (Intermedia/Propaganda, 2002) - classic Charlie Kaufman! A masterpiece of playful pontification from Hollywood's most innovative screenwriter, which stars Nicholas Cage in exceptional form as Kaufman himself, (and his invented twin brother), puzzling how to adapt Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. This is a hugely enjoyable, reflexive film which effectively deconstructs the processes behind text-to-screen adaptation.

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros, 2oo3) - Although this franchise has been lacklustre at times, this adaptation of JK Rowling's third novel was a splendid affair - a genuine cinematic, visual treat thanks to the genius of director Alfonso Cuaron.

Mansfield Park (Miramax, 1999) - a much-maligned adaptation of Austen's most serious work, but well-beloved by this blogger! Patricia Rozema has scripted a truly controversial retelling of Mansfield Park, replete with darker overtones and with a polemical political twist, as she bravely highlights key political discourses, for example, bringing the oft-ignored but all-pervasive theme of slavery to the fore. This work is far from perfect, but is a piece of courageous filmmaking.

The Way We Live Now (BBC, 2001) - more from Andrew Davies and the BBC. An excellent adaptation of Trollope's tale of political intrigue and the greedy machinations of hypocritical Victorian society. The most outstanding aspect of this adaptation however has to be the acting performances which are simply amazing - David Suchet makes for a memorable Melmotte, but the cream of the very creamy crop has to be Shirley Henderson as his feisty daughter Marie and Matthew MacFayden, as her would-be lover and general all-round cad.

Pride & Prejudice (BBC, 1995) - a must-have on any list of favourite adaptations, surely? The famous BBC version of Austen's favourite novel with Firth and Ehle as the sparring lovers. This adaptation firmly esconsced Andrew Davies as Britain's most popular adaptation screenwriter. The lush production values, gloriously filmed locations and witty repartee ensured this was a standout series which became a benchmark worldwide for quality TV.

Pride & Prejudice (Working Title, 2005) - tit for tat; it didn't seem fair to exclude the more recent re-telling of Elizabeth and Darcy's romance, most particularly when this is such an aesthetically exquisite piece of filmmaking. Keira Knightley makes for a fine Elizabeth Bennet - exceeding expectations - and her co-star Matthew MacFayden offers a more sensitively-wrought Darcy than the usual fare.

Sense & Sensibility (Columbia, 1995) - and to round off the Austen-fest, Ang Lee's delightful version of one of Austen's more awkward tales, penned with comic precision by Emma Thompson, who also puts in a fine acting performance as a 'mature' Elinor. Kate Winslet really paraded her acting chops with a magnificent performance, but it is Lee's direction which truly wins out here.

A Cock and Bull Story (BBC Films, 2005) - the most recent inclusion due to its clever reworking of Sterne's notoriously unadaptable The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy. This is meta-textual fancy at its finest with a marvellous central performance from Steve Coogan - although he is outshone by co-star Rob Brydon when it comes to straightforward funnies.

10 Things I Hate About You (Touchstone, 1999) & The Taming of the Shrew (BBC, 2005) - OK, a bit of a cheat here, both being retellings of the same tale. 10 Things I Hate About You has flaws aplenty but is a fun and feisty reconfiguration of the Shakespeare original, and the true leader of the pack in launching a whole new subgenre of US High School literary adaptations. Heath Ledger made for a highly watchable Patrick Verona (aka Petruchio) ... watch out for the tight leather pants! Mention must also be made of the BBC's 2005 version of the Shakespeare original, transposed to modern day Westminster. Fabulous acting from Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell as a cross-dressing Petruchio. This was part of the BBC's Shakespeare Retold series, which has been a real high point in literary adaptation in recent years, following on from an earlier foray by the BBC into updating Chaucer for a (post)modern audience. Special mention must also go (rather cheekily, rounding out this list of ten to twelve, if truth be told) to last year's modern version of Much Ado About Nothing starring Sarah Parrish, Damian Lewis and Billie Piper, set in a competitive TV newsroom - hugely entertaining with big performances.

A list of flops to follow ...

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