Let me start off by saying that this list is based only on adaptations for which I have read both the book and seen the filmed version. I started thinking about adaptations as I watched the first episode of The Magicians (not impressed) and A Series of Unfortunate Events (very impressed) on Netflix.
I also have high hopes for some adaptations coming out in the near future like American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, and something (still confused about what) based Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
5. Empire Falls
Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls by Richard Russo was adapted as a miniseries for HBO in 2005. I think the miniseries was the perfect vehicle for this story. It jumps time periods in the life of Miles Roby in a small town in Maine and is full of interesting characters, none of whom feel any less solid in the miniseries. This is partly due to the amazing casting. It is one of the most faithful adaptations of any book I have ever seen. You can watch the trailer here.
4. A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones
A TV series seemed a much more appropriate way to adapt this series than feature length movies. It is a favorite of mine for binge watching. There are so many good things about show- the actors, they storytelling, the cinematography- that make up for some of the differences from the book. I will admit that I still yell at the screen, “That’s not what happened in the book!” But the show is able to maintain coherent storytelling in a way that is engaging regardless of your familiarity with the books. I had been troubled that the show outpaced the books, but at this point, it is hard to blame them.
3. The Lord of the Rings
I was cautiously optimistic about these movies before they came out. The books are so epic that it was hard to imagine a film series that could capture the essence. They could have gone badly (see upcoming blog regarding worst adaptations). Instead, I thought they were so well done, I bought the series three times: first on DVD, then on Blue-Ray, and then the extended edition Blue-Ray. The extended versions are really extended, but none of it seems unnecessary. I wish I could say the same for The Hobbit movies (again, see upcoming blog).
2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
As with all of the books on this list, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is among my favorites. The miniseries, again, serves as the perfect way to translate this book to screen. It is an alternate history of an England with magic, set during the Napoleonic Wars. The two main characters drive the story, and the actors really do a brilliant job. Also important to the story is “the gentleman with thistledown hair,” a pesky fairy who finds his way back to the human world. The whole time I was reading the book I pictured him as David Bowie in Labyrinth. However, that portrayal was also so good that I was able to get over the image in my head. Though when I read the book again, it will still be David Bowie I picture. You can watch the trailer here.
1. Anne of Green Gables
I am referring to the 1985 version, as I have not yet seen the new one. The original was so perfect that I can’t imagine why they needed to remake it. That’s not to say I won’t watch the new one. This adaptation is another miniseries. I really think it is a smart way to go when adapting books. While there are some minor changes in the storytelling, nothing is lost. The characters are rich, and you quickly become caught up in this beautiful world of Prince Edward Island. I have watched it again as an adult and it does not dull with time. You can watch the trailer here.