Sunday, October 10, 2010

Adopting Adaptations

Once upon a time I was a purist (and a wee bit of a snob, actually). I did not think it was a fine and noble thing to watch classic literature via film. I thought that was cheating, especially if one had not read the book first. Tsk tsk.

But Colin Firth the BBC changed my mind.

Here's why. The BBC has produced an astonishing number of fabulous adaptations of books that carefully reconstruct the lifestyles of the period. At one time, these adaptations had the feeling of Coronation Street or Upstairs Downstairs... clearly all filmed in a studio. The more recent offerings (90's and onward), however, all have that lovely breath-of-fresh-air "on location" aura to them.

Although I have a rich imagination and I have never had trouble visualizing these stories as I've read them, I have so thoroughly enjoyed the attention to detail that is in these films, details about things I did not know about so could not imagine. These adaptations are so completely anchored in historical context, that alone makes them worth watching. Add in the brilliant adaptations of book to script and the stunning acting (British actors are so flexible - moving between stage, film, and TV), these are not to be missed. Viewing one is a literary and historical immersion experience.

The other amazing-to-me thing about these films/series is that my son, except for a brief period of time when he hoped a T-Rex would come along and eat Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy (he didn't yet know about zombies), has so enjoyed watching a number of these adaptations with me, giving him a literary grounding that I did not have at his age. At some point in his life, I suspect that he will pick up Dicken's Bleak House off the book shelf simply because he was so engrossed in the film when he was 8 years old.

Here are some of our favourite adaptations:

Charles Dickens

Bleak House with Gillian Anderson

Little Dorrit with Matthew McFayden and Claire Foy

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle

Northanger Abbey (2007) with Felicity Jones

Sense and Sensibility (2008)

Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters

Cranford - Judi Dench, Michael Gambon

North and South - with Richard Armitage


Lark Rise to Candleford (Flora Thompson) with Olivia Hallinan and Dawn French (I cannot say enough about this fabulous series - it's fantastic.)

Jeeves and Wooster (P.G. Wodehouse) with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (comedy)

Mapp and Lucia (E.F. Benson) with Prunella Scales (of Fawlty Towers), Geraldine McEwan and Nigel Hawthorne (comedy)

Brideshead Revisted (Evelyn Waugh) with Jeremy Irons (adult subject matter)

On the Listology site, there are a number of other literary adaptations listed up until 2003. The above links are to the BBC Canada site. If you wish to look through, you'll notice that they are happy to provide you with this feature: "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought..." You'll find many more awesome selections by looking through that list.

This blog may also provide some inspiration: Enchanted Serenity of Period Films.

Note: Many of the Masterpiece Theatre British adaptations were done through the BBC. If you are searching on line for these or looking them up in the local library, they may be listed under Masterpiece (PBS) not BBC.

As with any book or other resource, it may be prudent to preview (or read the reviews) to make sure that your selection will suit your child's age and sensibilities. The classics deal with some weighty and, at times, dark subject matter, especially when it comes to human nature and actions. One online place I like to check for video feedback is Common Sense Media. The reviews are quite thorough and list any possible problematic portions of films, so there should be no surprises.

Feel free to suggest your favourite adaptations in the comments!!