When Well-Loved Books Become Movies, and Mini-Series… Maybe

As I said in my last post, I recently (finally) finished Donna Tartt’s book The Goldfinch. I think she is a wonderful writer. Although I must say there were times when I wished her editors had been a bit more strict with her. Sometimes less is more, you know.

Certain parts of the book, in my opinion, could have, and should have, been cut down. I thought the description of the aftermath of the bomb blast in the museum, early in the book, was much too long. I even started skimming at one point. Also Boris and Theo’s drug and alcohol induced adventures in Las Vegas became tedious and I almost gave up on the book at that point. Drunken teenagers… I’m so done with that scene. At least since I stopped volunteering to supervise high school dances.

But for the most part I loved the book. As one reader named Sally commented on an earlier post, “this book stays with you;” she said Boris and Theo and Hobie would be with her “for life.” Me too, Sally. Especially Boris. Tartt writes dialogue so skilfully that you can actually hear Boris’ slight accent, and imagine his shouting “Potter!” at Theo. And I’ve been in too many high school hallways crowded with teenagers not to recognize (and chuckle over) Boris’ vivid exclamation that he had stood in line “for fucking ever.”

So with Tartt’s book and her characters, bits of dialogue, and perfectly drawn settings in New York and Amsterdam rattling around in my brain these last couple of weeks… I started thinking of  The Goldfinch … the movie. Who would I cast to play the main roles?

Of course, no one but Johnny Depp could play Boris…. could be Boris.


Okay… so, at 51, he might be a bit old for the part. But who else could inhabit Boris’ paradoxical nature, and be both repellent and so darned attractive at the same time?

And when I picture the character of Hobie in my mind, it’s always Stephen Fry that I see. Hulking and homely and … well, lovely. Just like Hobie in the book.


The character of Mrs. Barbour I picture as Cate Blanchette. Cool, beautiful, and fragile. And later in the book, just a bit haunted. Not unlike the character Blanchette played in the movie Blue Jasmine. 



Or Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, a part Blanchette played in the Sydney Theatre Company production in 2009. I hear she was brilliant in the role. But I’m still partial to Vivien Leigh’s film version. Nobody does fragile better than Vivien Leigh. And for good reason; sadly, she was plagued by mental illness throughout her life and dead from tuberculosis at age fifty-three.

And let’s not forget one of my favourite characters in Tartt’s book… Popper. I love a writer who can depict animals realistically. Readers fall in love with the little dog that Theo befriends when he arrives in Vegas, is embarrassed to be around, since he’s “not even a real dog,” just a bedraggled child’s toy, and yet can’t abandon when he runs away back to New York. I particularly love the scenes where Popper is secreted in Theo’s bag during the long bus trip back east, how the little dog sits patiently inside the bag, eventually giving a little “huff” as he settles down to sleep.  I don’t know how a director could ever include Popper in a film. But if it could be done… I think he’d look like this.
I hope that The Goldfinch does one day become a film. It’s a book that would lend itself well to a visual medium. That’s because much of Tartt’s writing is very sensual, and by that I mean so grounded in images that appeal to the senses, so full of sights, sounds and smells that her scenes come alive.

“It was raining, trees leafing out, spring deepening into summer, and the forlorn cry of horns on the street; the dank smell of the wet pavement had an electricity about it, a sense of crowds and static, lonely secretaries and fat guys with bags of carry-out, everywhere the ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live.”


If a film of The Goldfinch is ever made… let’s hope that it’s done well. And that it will be a credit to the book.

It’s hard for readers to see a well-loved book become a movie. But when the film is done properly, well, then the result is magical.

Like the 1995 A & E mini-series based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I can’t imagine anyone but Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle playing Darcy and Elizabeth, now. I think I’ve seen this series at least fifty times. My mum owns the boxed set and we watch it every year, in a P&P marathon. Sigh. Wonderful.


Or who could ever play Agatha Christie’s beloved character Hercule Poirot as magnificently as David Suchet? I mean he is Poirot. When I read Christie’s books now, I hear Suchet’s voice.


Which brings me to my all time favourite movie-from-a-well-loved-book. To Kill a Mockingbird. I love Harper Lee’s book. I loved it as a child when I first read it. Loved it every year I taught it to my grade nine English class. Love the movie just as much.


I never tired of handing round the Kleenex box to my class when, at the conclusion of the courtroom scene in the movie, Reverend Sikes says to Scout…”Stand up Miss Jean Louise. Your father’s passing.” Or near the end, when Scout says “He-ey Boo.” Or when Atticus says….okay don’t get me started… I could quote from that book all day. And as with David Suchet, every time I read Atticus’ words, I hear Gregory Peck. Just tell me who…who….who could EVER be a better Atticus Finch?

If you’ve been following literary news this week, you’ll have heard about Harper Lee’s soon to be released “second” book, Go Set A Watchman. High school English teachers all over North America (including yours truly) swooned at that news. And after the euphoria, came the musing, and then, for those who’ve read anything about Nelle Harper Lee herself, her life and her famous spurning of all publicity, the quizzical looks and finally the skepticism. Really? Really? Is this for real? It’s a mystery, for sure. And one that I think is best explored in this Guardian article by Ed Pilkington “Harper Lee Book News Leaves Hometown Surprised, Bemused and Sceptical.” The saga continues with articles on Twitter today defending Lee’s lawyer who supposedly “discovered” the lost work. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see how this turns out.

And speaking of news. A couple of weeks ago watching Downton Abbey on PBS, I gasped when I saw a trailer advertising an upcoming series. Wolf Hall… is here. Or almost.

I absolutely loved reading Wolf Hall, the Hilary Mantel book that won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. And its sequel Bringing Up the Bodies. Both books deal with the era of  Henry VIII in searing and gritty detail. Politics, religion, greed, ambition, treachery, marriage, divorce, marriage, life and death…. lots of death. Mantle’s book is a tour de force. Well, both of them are, actually, since they both won the Man Booker. And all of this is told, not from the point of view of Henry nor any of his wives, but through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell who is usually painted as the villain in this story, at least in any version I’ve read so far. The commoner who rose to power by helping Henry get his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, by defying the pope and eventually breaking the ties between the church in England and the Roman Catholic church in Rome. Showing all this through the eyes of Cromwell is… nothing short of … brilliant.

I had heard that Wolf Hall was being made into a mini-series, but not when it would be available here. The novel is so packed with historical and descriptive detail that it would have never made a two hour movie. Well, not without cutting it to bits.

With renowned stage actor, Mark Rylance playing Thomas Cromwell, I’d wager he’ll not be depicted as the stock character he so often is portrayed as…


And Damien Lewis as Henry VIII…. I remember him as the wonderfully repressed Soames Forsyte in The Forstyte Saga. 


It looks like the BBC has pulled out all the stops with Wolf Hall. Let’s hope this series is very different from the Showtime series The Tudors of a few years ago. That was soooo sexed up, it was laughable.

But I have great hopes for Wolf Hall. 

And if you haven’t yet read Mantel’s book I highly recommend it. But beware… it’s a doorstop of a book. And very detailed. And if you’ve not read much historical fiction of that era, I’d maybe start with the Phillipa Gregory series first. But don’t take my word for it. The fabulous blog Clothes in Books has a post with a great list of books that deal with the Tudor era. You can read it here.

And then have a look at the series trailer. Because as I tweeted to Clothes in Books the other day…. one can never have too many Tudors.

So, do tell. What books have you loved that made great movies…. or not great movies, as the case may be?

Or what about those great books that have not been adapted for film, yet? Any thoughts as to who you might like to see play… Boris… or Hobie… in The Goldfinch…the movie?



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From the archives


Off on An Adventure

We’re going on a road trip. And I’m taking a brief holiday from blogging. Back on March 11.


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May Vlog: My Spring Closet

I’m chatting about my spring closet in my monthly vlog this week. Looking at pieces I am excited to wear this season. New and old.

17 thoughts on “When Well-Loved Books Become Movies, and Mini-Series… Maybe”

  1. I would watch the movie gildfinch but know if also be disappointed. The odd thing about gildfinch is that you do still care for the characters even after you turn the last page. When I saw the goldfinch in person the other week I couldn't help but think what everyone was up to and that in itself is Dt s biggest fear.

  2. I will come at this from a different angle – the worst adaptation of a favorite book . I just loved ' Lark Rise to Candleford ' & found it a perfect description of life in that place at that time . Do you know it ? When the the TV adaptation came along I was sad & even angry . It became something totally twee & full of unreal characters . That wonderful book was trivialized – I'm getting annoyed again !
    Wendy in York

    1. I have not read the book…I didn't know it was a book. I must see if our library has it. I do know that I tried to watch the series a couple of times…and twee describes it perfectly. I kept thinking that I should like it, but I didn't.

  3. Sorry , forgot to recommend Wolf Hall . I haven't read the book but we are really enjoying the TV version
    Wendy in York

  4. You have picked some of the best book to movie titles out there. I adore A&E's "Pride and Prejudice" and absolutely no one else will ever be able to portray Darcy and Lizzie–never ever. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a beautiful film…followed the book nicely and one of my favorites too. And I adore the "Poirot" series. I actually started watching the shows before I ever read the Agatha Christie books–and now when I do, it is David Suchet I see and hear. Another great book to film series is "Anne of Green Gables" (the first two in the series of three)…another gorgeous film. I have yet to read "Goldfinch" but it is on my list. And a friend just recommended the "Forstyte Saga"…so will add to Netflix queue.

    Great post! And I ADORE that dog picture.

    1. I loved the Anne books and, you're right, the Anne mini-series …the one with Megan Follows as Anne… was fabulous. A later Canadian TV series was not great. Do watch Forsyte Saga…the one from the 90's. It was wonderful. I think you'll like it.

  5. Oh Miss High. Loved this post. I wish you were in my book group. Not sure there is anyone out there who could play my Boris. Has to be someone young, sorry Johnny is too old. Thought Wild the movie was better than Wild the book. I am an avid backpacker, got a new pack for my 71st birthday so I know of where I speak. So enjoy your blog.

  6. Love your casting ideas although I'd have no interest in watching a film version of the Goldfinch. Enjoyed the book ( I agree with you about some overly long sections) but never like screen adaptations of books I've read. For me the pleasure of anticipation etc would be lost when I know the story already. I love David Suchet's Poirot but have never read an Agatha Christie novel (works the other way round for me). On the subject of crime fiction have you ever read any of Donna Leon's Brunetti books? Set in Venice, they give an interesting insight into life in Venice but are a nice easy read. Iris H

  7. Love your posts Susan. Thanks for the heads up on the Donna Tartt book. I shall be ordering this from the library. I have been reading the Maisie Dobbs books on your recommendation and love them. I read Wolf Hall and have yet to read Bring Up the Bones but loved Wolf Hall even though it was a bit of a door stop. Now watching it on tv and am really enjoying it. It's hard to see how they can compress 2 doorstops into about 6 episodes but they are doing it. There were some reviews saying that the lighting was poor but the BBC are lighting it in keeping with the times. I also love P & P (have the boxed set) and remember when it was first shown in the BBC in England on a Sun night (I now live in Canada). The following afternoon I was teaching a group of mature women word-processing and the first 10 mins of class was always spent discussing how Colin Firth smoldered the previous evening. He says very little in the first few episodes but smolders!

    1. I well remember the first time I saw Pride and Prejudice on A&E in the 90's. I kept thinking…I can't believe something this good is on TV. I remember the smoldering too. Thanks for reading.

  8. So glad I found you through the Thursday Favorite Thing Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner! I have read a great deal of historical fiction, and studied Medieval history as a graduate student, so all of this is of great interest to me. Did not watch the Tudors because of (as you mentioned) the overt and overly sexualized presentation, so I am looking forward to Wolf Hall. After Downton Abbey, of course! And Damien Lewis as Henry VIII . . . . well, that should be perfect! Hope to catch up with you again next week for your literary updates! Nina @ Vintage Mama's Cottage

    1. Thanks Nina. I'm flattered that someone with credentials in history agrees with me. I can't wait to see Damien Lewis as Henry. I'm hoping he will be divinely dastardly:)

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