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Friday, January 19, 2018

Classic Novels Come to the Screen

Written by Jon Williams

Recently it was announced that the streaming service Hulu had picked up rights to a new six-episode adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22, starring and directed by George Clooney. First published in 1961, the novel is considered one of the most significant and influential literary works of the 20th century. About a group of United States airmen during World War II and their darkly humorous attempts to maintain their sanity (or prove their insanity), the novel was previously adapted into a 1970 feature film starring Alan Arkin as the main character, Yossarian, along with other such notable names as Art Garfunkel, Martin Sheen, Bob Newhart, Jon Voight, and Orson Welles.

Hulu, of course, has gained much acclaim lately for another series adaptation of a classic novel. Earlier this month, The Handmaid’s Tale won a Golden Globe for Best Drama Series, and Elisabeth Moss took home the award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and it fared even better at last fall’s Emmy Awards, where it won those same two awards and six more. The show is based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel about a near-future society where declining birth rates have led to fertile women being indentured to powerful men as “handmaids” for procreation. Like Catch-22, The Handmaid’s Tale was previously adapted into a movie, released in 1990 and starring Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall, and Faye Dunaway. The show’s second season will debut in April.

HBO has a knack for bringing books to life—their Big Little Lies series, based on the novel by Liane Moriarty was a big winner in the miniseries category at this year’s Golden Globes, not to mention the runaway success of Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, among other examples. Their latest attempt will come this spring, with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Referring to the temperature at which paper burns, the story deals with “firemen” who are tasked with burning any books they find, and one who goes rogue in hopes of reviving the wisdom of the past. A 1966 adaptation was directed by the legendary Francois Truffaut.

Since its initial publication in the late 1860s, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has always been a popular target for adaptation, with several movies and TV miniseries to its name already. This year, those totals will both go up by one, as the March sisters are coming to both the big and small screens. The film version, starring Lea Thompson as Marmee, the girls’ mother, does not have a firm release date yet. The three-part miniseries, on the other hand, is expected to air on PBS and the BBC during the Christmas season. Starring Emily Watson and Angela Lansbury, it will follow in a tradition of PBS/BBC period dramas, and as such, is highly anticipated.

Last year, Moonlight won Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture and Best Screenplay. This year, the writer and director of that film, Barry Jenkins, is bringing to the screen James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s the gripping story of a man unjustly accused of a horrific crime just after he and his fiancée learn she is pregnant, and their fight to prove his innocence. Despite being more than forty years old, it’s a tale with a great deal of resonance today. Another recent film based on a work by Baldwin, the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro, has garnered much acclaim.

Of course, all of these adaptations are still a ways off. Much closer on the horizon is Disney’s movie version of A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay. Author Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel won the prestigious Newbery Medal for children’s literature, among other awards, and has been a beloved classic ever since. It follows the young Meg Murry as she searches for her father, a brilliant scientist who has discovered a method of traveling through both space and time. The movie, which hits theaters on March 9, is sure to reignite interest in L’Engle’s book, as well as further titles in the series, such as A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Be sure you have these classic novels on your shelves for patrons as their adaptations come out, as they will surely be in demand even more than usual. Use the links above, or SmartBrowse on our website for other adaptations, more works by the authors, and plenty of other related materials.

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