Top 5: Book to TV Adaptations

So I was a bit busy at the end of April to get a ‘Top 5’ post up…better late than never though. From now on I’ll make more of an effort to get them pre-written in time to go up on first sunday of each month.

This month, to belatedly celebrate the return of Game of Thrones, it’s book to TV adaptations. Now there is a lot of great TV adapted from books, so I am rather limiting myself in only picking 5 –  especially as there are lots that I haven’t seen and I’m ignoring series I have seen but are based on books I haven’t read (thus disqualifying The Jewel in the Crown, North and South, Daniel Deronda, Little Dorrit and a whole host of other really wonderful stuff).

I’m certain there is plenty of stuff that’s objectively far better quality than some of my picks here but these are all TV series that hold a special place in my heart that I could (and in some cases do) watch again and again. So judge away, argue with my choices and, please, do recommend others – but don’t expect me to change my mind on any of these.

So here it goes – Louise’s list of top 5 TV adaptations (from newest to oldest)

Game of Thrones (2011-present)
Adapted from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

God, I love that intro… Ok so I haven’t read all the books in this series yet but I’ve read the first two and that’s all they’ve covered so far in the TV series anyway so I think I can just about bend the rules to include it. There is so much to love about this series I’m not sure entirely where to start. It’s grown up (veeeeerry grown up), unpredictable, fantasy with complex characters. What’s not to love? The actors are great, the production quality is incredible (certainly for someone used to dramas made on a BBC budget), the story is compelling and it’s amazingly faithful to the books. Ok, so it changes a few details and I’ve seen some people raging about that, but most of them (barring the gratuitous ‘play with her arse’ scene in season one) are pretty understandable when you stop to think about the scope of the story and the length and detail of the books they’re adapting. Not everything or every character makes it in but the basic story and the themes of the books do. I went into the first series quite doubtfully after having spent years deliberately ignoring the hype around the books because they ‘didn’t sound like my thing’, by the end of the first episode I was a convert. Love, love, love. And not just because Sean Bean is one hell of a sexy bastard (though he totally is), the whole cast is pretty dang brilliant and they portray their characters wonderfully – Conleth Hill as Lord Varys is a particular highlight. Bonus points for having child actors who can actually act and don’t make me want to turn the TV off the moment they appear.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Adapted from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

(Sorry I couldn’t find the ‘official’ intro)

Well, I couldn’t not include an Austen. A bit of an obvious choice as far as Austen adaptations go, I know, and to be honest it was a toss-up between this and the BBCs 2009 version of Emma just for a bit of variety, but Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy clinched it – he’s really is just wonderful and the series really is as good as everyone says. There have been a lot of adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and, unless we’re counting Bridget Jones Diary and Lost in Austen, I’ve only seen two – but even with my limited exposure to other versions I feel totally confident in saying that this one is easily the best. Although I’m the only girl I know who finds ‘the lake scene’  a little overrated, there is almost nothing I dislike about this series. With a running time of five hours, it blows any film version out of the water just by merit of being able to take a more leisurely pace and let things unfold in due course instead of unrealistically rattling through events. But it’s more than just the format that makes it so much better than the 2009 Keria Knightly version – the casting is just impeccable. The chemistry between the two leads is fantastic and all the side characters are as brilliantly eccentricand hillarious as they are in the book. Lydia, Mrs. Bennet, and Mr. Colins are as annoying and loathsome as anyone who has read the book will expect, and Mr. Bennet just as cruelly funny. Only Jane is a slight weak point – and then only really because standards of beauty have changed a lot since Austen’s time. I read all of Austen’s novels for the first time last year and haven’t yet reread any, but I must have watched this about a million times  – it’s one of the signs that summer is here and we’ve all finished exams when either me or my sisters sits us all down with a generous supply of chocolate biscuits and drags out the DVD.

The Animals of Farthing Wood (1993-1995)
Adapted from The Animals of Farthing Wood series by Colin Dann

Judging from Cracked’s attitude towards this cartoon, I’m guessing that it’s a purely British and European phenomenon. All I can say is: you Americans missed out. The Animals of Farthing Wood is an absolute classic and I was just the right age to experience it in all its glory – I even subscribed to the monthly magazine. Yes the animation is a bit dated and yes characters, major ones, did die in unpleasant ways, but you know what it didn’t do? Patronise us by pretending wildlife and the British countryside is all nice and fluffy and cuddles and rainbows.  Animals do kill and eat other animals, humans kill and eat animals, we hunt animals just for shits and giggles, and if you try to cross a motorway you will probably get run over. As a kid who spent my first few years growing up in the countryside in the middle of pheasant-hunting land none of this was new or ‘terrifying’ information, it was just nature. It was always upsetting when one of the characters died of course – I was particularly torn up by a couple of scenes Cracked describes actually – but the tension of not knowing who would survive was one of the things that made this show such absolutely compulsive viewing for millions of children (a bit like Game of Thrones, I guess). And if you think the series was dark keep in mind that the books –  also aimed and enjoyed by children – were just as dark but without the occasionally annoying slapstick to lighten things up. In fact they actually cut one of the books completely from the adaptation for containing ‘too much horror’ (it featured a large and rather vicious wildcat finding its way into the nature reserve). Kids can actually take a lot more ‘adult’ themes than some adults seem to like to think. It all went a bit downhill in series 3, but then so did the last book really as the focus moved away from Fox, Badger, Mole, and the first generation who made up the heart of the story. The first two series are classics though and the BBC/whatever organisation actually did the animation is really missing a trick by not having them available on DVD.

The Adventures of Tintin (1991-1992)
Adapted from The Adventures of Tintin by Herge

Animation again, and a comic book, but I think it counts. Again this is one where I think the opening sequence makes its brilliance self-explanatory; the music, the adventure, the exciting locations, chase scenes,  slapstick humour…just watching that video gives me a happy buzz. Like a lot of other kids, Tintin was a staple of my childhood even before I saw the TV version, and I fell in love with the stories and characters at a pretty early age – I still kind of want to marry Captain Haddock. Watching this series, with its good old-fashioned animation that actually looks like Tintin – rather that slightly uncanny-valley hi-tech CGI we got in the recent film version – is like watching the panels in the comics come to life.  There are some silly changes to make the stories  more ‘kiddy friendly’ – Haddock’s alcoholism is downplayed for one and the none-too-PC depiction of Native Americans is purged from one story – but for the most part it manages to keep the core of what makes Tintin so great.  That and whoever provides the voice acting for Captain Haddock does a fantastic ‘BLISTERING BARNACLES!

The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-1990)
Adapted from The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

An oldie but a goody. Or maybe that’s nostalgia talking, I could hardly not include this after mentioning how much I loved it in my last ‘Top 5’. Looking back on it now (and yes I do own it on DVD)  the special effects are really dated –  and probably looked dated at the time to anybody who wasn’t a five-year old – and the acting is totally hammy, but I’ve still got a very soft spot for this series regardless. Before I could read this was the series that inspired a love of fantasy that just won’t go away – much to my mother’s annoyance, she thinks I should read ‘proper’ books ‘for grown ups’. And after I could read, well, I still often prefered watching this to wading through Lewis’ narration style . If you can get past the ‘made on a shoestring budget using twenty-year-old special effects’ you might enjoy it, but I suspect it’s one of those programmes you’ve got to have been brought up on to see past the glaring flaws and laughable costumes. Tell you what though, I’d take the BBC’s way more faithful and, fun, and exciting adaptation of Voyage of the Dawn Treader over the rubbish Fox/Walden Media managed to put together with all their multi-million budget and up to date tech only a couple of years ago.


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