David Nicholls' Five Favorite Novel to Screen Adaptations

David Nicholls: Novelist/Screenwriter

Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre is the most recent adaptation––more than 45 so far––of Charlotte Bronte’s celebrated novel. What about other novels turned into films? We asked acclaimed novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls, who adapted his own bestseller One Day for Focus Features (due in theaters July 10), to pick five of his favorite films adapted from classic novels. As both a novelist and screenwriter, Nicholls intimately understands the complexity of turning a novel into a screenplay. Having started out as an actor he also knows what it means to embody a text on screen. He’s written three novels––Starter for Ten (2003), The Understudy (2005), and One Day (2009)––and has adapted both Starter for Ten and One Day for film, in addition to penning a number of screenplays for both television and film.

Oil! (1927)/There Will Be Blood (2007)

I should confess that I've never read Upton Sinclair's source novel, Oil! but what I love about There Will Be Blood is that it had the breadth, scale and ambition of an epic novel and at the same time felt gloriously cinematic. The tendency, when adapting a book, is to stick the words from the page onto the screen––hence the verbosity of so many movie adaptations. But Paul Thomas Anderson uses silence wonderfully well, telling the story in pictures, not transcribed text. The new title's better too.

Heart of Darkness (1902)/Apocalypse Now (1979)

Updating classics rarely works as well as this, an inspired idea, brilliantly carried through. In truth, this is a movie I loved more at 23 than I do now––I find it a little ponderous and self-indulgent in places––but it's still ambitious, almost insane epic film-making, and Coppola finds a perfect match for Conrad's sense of unease, nihilism and dread.

Far From The Madding Crowd (1874/ 1967)

It's set in the 1870s, yet this is the archetypal movie of Sixties England. Boldwood and Oak aren't quite as rich and complex as in the novel - like Bathsheba, John Schlesinger is clearly fixated on Terence Stamp's Troy, but it remains the most successful on-screen approximation of Hardy's world. The famous sword-scene is a classic moment, absolutely of its time, yet also strangely close to the dreamlike atmosphere of Hardy's original set-piece.

Brideshead Revisited (1945/1981)

The common complaint of anyone attempting to adapt a classic novel is the lack of time the movie version gives you. How can you ever hope to condense 500 pages of prose into 120 pages of screenplay? The TV Brideshead sidesteps this dilemma by simply being very, very long - thirteen hours to tell a novel that could be read quite comfortably in ten. It's the most absurdly faithful version of a novel imaginable. Like all good adaptations, its also absolutely of its time - there's no better expression of the aspirations and class obsession of Thatcher's Britain in the '80s.

Barry Lyndon (1844/1975)

I love this film, the most under-rated of Kubrick's work. Like all of his work its leisurely-paced, beautiful, a little chilly. The attention to detail is phenomenal - watching it you get the sense that, yes, this is what 18th century Britain looked like. It's impossible to imagine Kubrick taking on, say, Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre or, god forbid, Dickens, whose ebullient energy would never survive the Kubrick treatment, but there's a perfect match here between the director's vision and the sardonic, wry tone of the 18th century novel. So slow and measured, it almost feels like reading...

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