Is the original book always better?

Kate Dunkerton debates whether the original book is always better than the screen adaption.

Kate Dunkerton
14th May 2020
After a book has been adapted, the first question people always ask is - which is better, the book or the adaptation? Although the avid book lover will always say the original book is better, there are times when the adaptation can be an improvement on its source material.

Take Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn. Although both the book and the film adaptation are brilliant, I think the film is more enjoyable overall. With Nick Hornby penning the screenplay, he makes Eilis feistier and more admirable than in the book, in which she is quite annoying and incapable of making decisions. We also have to give credit to what I believe is Saoirse Ronan’s best and most touching performance in the lead role as Eilis. In contrast to the book, Ronan is able to breathe new life into a timid heroine trying to find herself in her new home. Hornby also adds the phenomenal scene when Eilis confronts her old boss attempting to blackmail her, realising Brooklyn is where she belongs. In the book, it is much more ambiguous, and we fear Eilis is going to end up back in a complicated situation. It’s also insinuated that she no longer loves Tony, in contrast to the film version in which we finally see a reunion between the two. In this way, Hornby makes the ending more satisfying for the audience, even if it is different to the book. However, at the same time Hornby doesn’t sugar-coat Eilis’ depression and homesickness, capturing the intensity of Eilis’ experience as a migrant just as it was depicted in the book. 

Image source: IMDB

Everything, Everything was diluted down to a cliché YA film trying to recreate the success of previous films from the same genre

When it comes to YA adaptations, I think there is an increased risk that something is going to go wrong, purely because there are so many of them already. For example, I loved Nicola Yoon’s book Everything, Everything. Although it follows typical YA literature tropes, I thought it was a fresh take on the genre and I couldn’t put it down. After the film was released in 2017, I couldn’t believe my disappointment at what they had done to this wonderful book. It was essentially a rip-off of other YA hits like The Fault in Our Stars, filled with cliché language that makes you wonder what teenager actually talks like that. Just as Hazel and Augustus’s thing is to repeat “ok” to each other, they made Maddy and Olly repeat the word “ellipsis”, something they don’t say in the book. This made the film awkward and I cringed every time they said this to each other. Aside from this, the film failed to address the darker elements of the book effectively, particularly Olly’s relationship with his father which was central to his storyline. Overall, Everything, Everything was diluted down to a cliché YA film trying to recreate the success of previous films from the same genre, ultimately falling flat and proving that the book was in fact better in this case.

Image source: IMDB

Me Before You has got to be one of my favourite film adaptations

Despite its critics, Me Before You has got to be one of my favourite film adaptations. Based on the book by Jojo Moyes, it has been claimed that the plot was too problematic to ever work as a film and Emilia Clarke’s acting wasn’t up to scratch. But, for anyone who has read the book, I thought Clarke was the perfect choice for the role of Louisa. With her funky clothes and bubbly personality, she played the role well and had great chemistry with Sam Claflin as Will. It is overall a faithful adaptation of the book, however the film omitted the rape scene which is crucial to understanding Louisa’s character arc. In the book, this reveals why Louisa is so reluctant to leave the tiny town she and Will call home, in contrast to the film which doesn’t explain Louisa’s decision to stay. If I hadn’t read the book first, I probably would have thought Louisa believed she couldn’t leave her family and was scared to try new things outside of her comfort zone. When you bring the assault into the equation, it’s a different matter and you realise Louisa is still suffering from PTSD. This perhaps makes the ending, when she goes to live in Paris, better because we know how big this is for Louisa and how she has overcome so much. In contrast to the book, in the film it seems to be more about Will and how Louisa is following in his footsteps by pursuing an adventure and into the unknown, just as he loved to do before his accident. With Moyes serving as screenwriter, her decision to omit this distressing scene would likely have resulted in an entirely different film.

Image source: IMDB

I believe it all depends on the director, the screenwriter, and the cast, and how well they have understood the source material

When it comes to adaptations, I believe it all depends on the director, the screenwriter, and the cast, and how well they have understood the source material. It can be a magical thing seeing a book you adore come to life, or it can be a bookworm’s worst nightmare. I think an adaptation shouldn’t be afraid to take risks, even by making minor changes which improve the story. I am probably one of the few people who would say that an adaptation can be better than the original book. It all depends on if the right people have been chosen to make it and if it has been adapted into the right format. If you like watching films, you’re likely going to enjoy the film better. If you’re a bookworm, you’re likely going to enjoy the book better. It all depends on your own opinion.

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