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From Word to Screen

Written by Flora Kimberley on 2nd May 2019

It’s time to address the age-old question, which is better the book or the TV show?

The Publishing and Media industries have always co-existed borrowing ideas from each other. The world of literature still flourishes; recently television has taken a big step towards captivating narrative whilst adding vibrant visuals. In recent years many of the biggest shows on television are based on novels, think of shows like Game of Thrones, The Night Manager, Big Little Lies, Sherlock and Sharp Objects.

One of the most successful transitions from the novel into TV series is the Hulu drama The Handmaids Tale. The dystopian thriller written by Margret Atwood depicts a nation struggling with a decreasing birth rate, which causes the more fertile women to essentially become human incubation chambers. The series has gained critical acclaim and its first season won eight Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series. The Handmaid’s Tale has already shot its third series which is set for release on the 5th of June.

After the success of The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu has commissioned more dramas based on classic novels. For example, they have just released the trailer for a new limited series based on Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Brooklyn born Joseph Heller was a bombardier pilot during world war two taking part in over sixty dogfights. His rebellious nature shrewdly discerned a paradox within the army regulations surrounding pilots mental health; a pilot could be grounded for being insane but if the pilot thought he was going insane the army considered them sane enough to fly. The witty absurd nature of the novel makes you laugh (sometimes out loud) whilst simultaneously exploring the conflicting dichotomy of the Army. The producers have made some fantastic choices to update the classic to give it a modern twist. They have placed it in a contemporary setting and added dynamic dogfights to captivate a new audience for the show. The cast is outstanding with big names such as Hugh Laurie, Geroge Clooney, Kyle Chandler and Christopher Abbott. The casting of George Clooney in the role of Lieutenant Scheisskopf is inspired, considering this character is at constant odds with himself as his love of parades leaves him too busy to cope with his wife’s libido. The co-production between Paramount TV and Sky Italia is set to premiere online on the 17th May and is expected to be an outstanding success.

Another novel that is being adapted to screen is the 1990 collaborative fantasy classic Good Omens; The nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter penned by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This novel follows an uneasy alliance between an angel and a demon whilst they try and save the world from the apocalypse. Amazon and the BBC have decided to take on co-production rights commissioning Gaiman to adapt the novel into a comic apocalyptic miniseries. This will be streamed on Prime video on the 31st of May and then six months later it will air weekly on BBC 2. Good Omens is set to star David Tennant (Crowley, demon) and Michael Sheen (Aziraphale, angel). Tennant himself has struggled to explain what the show is like in an interview he said “it’s like a sort of fairy tale with a kind of very real-world setting. It’s a farce and it’s also deeply serious”. The rest of the cast reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, featuring Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Daniel Mays (Line of Duty), Frances McDormand (Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator/The Kings Speech), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Brian Cox (Human Universe) and Jack Whitehall (Bad Education).

Overall, it is clear that adaption is one of the cornerstones for the broadcast industry. As the king of adaptation, Stephen King says “books and movies are like apples and oranges. They are both fruit, but taste completely different.”

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