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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Film of the Book - Can it ever be as good?


You wait fifty six years for a film and then two come along at the same time. What are the chances? Rosemary Sutcliff's book The Eagle of the Ninth has been an all time favourite of mine since I read it at school (which wasn't quite 56 years ago - that was when it was first published) and when I heard it was going to be turned into a film I was ecstatic. For me that story has everything: a spooky historical mystery at its heart - the disappearance of a Roman legion north of Hadrian's Wall - adventure, romance and a great setting. So I hurried off to find out all about the film... And discovered both of them.

First up, in April, is Centurion. This appears to be inspired by the story of the Roman Ninth Legion rather than actually based on Rosemary Sutcliff's book. It stars Michael Fassbender and Dominic West, two good reasons to go and see it, aside from the actual story. I like the idea of a plucky band of seven warriors fighting back against overwhelming odds deep inside enemy territory. (Shades of the King Arthur film with Clive Owen there.) The tagline "Fight or Die" certainly goes for the throat.

Then, in the summer, there is The Eagle of the Ninth, the film of the book, starring Channing Tatum and an all star cast. So what to do? Either or both? And at the back of my mind is that thought that always lurks when I go to see the film of a favourite book: Can the film possibly do the book justice?
I call this the "Frenchman's Creek" experience. Years ago there was a made-for-TV-movie of Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, a fabulous book that is on my all time favourites list. But oh dear, the disappointment and the disillusionment of the film! Sometimes it really is better to stay away from that movie screen and relish the printed word and the power of your own imagination.

What do you think? Did you read and enjoy Rosemary Sutcliff's book? Will you be going to see either of these movies? And have you seen a film of a book that equalled or exceeded the original?

13 comments:

Alison said...

Hi Nicola,

As a self-confessed Roman nut and a film fan I will go and see both. Mark Strong's always good...

But as for whether they're faithful to the book? Film is such a visual, open, often shared medium which can give you some fabulous photography, especially of the landscape, but a book is a personal, secret world, interpreted through your own mindset.

Two different experiences...

You decide!

margaret blake said...

Can I just mention one film of the book? Not strictly history but modern history - Captain Correlli's Mandolin. The film was rubbish, the book a joy.

I did see Frenchman's Creek and it encouraged me to read the book but it was the golden oldie with Joan Fontaine.

Nicola Cornick said...

Perhaps that's the key, Alison - don't look at it as "the film of the book" but as a completely separate experience. It may be good, it may be less good, but perhaps I shouldn't compare!

Margaret, I must hunt out the Joan Fontaine version. So many of these golden oldies are fabulous, especially in comparison to the remakes.

Anthony said...

The film TEONT It is not a 'film of the book', but it is a film inspired by the story told by Rosemary Sutcliff in the book, so neither is it completely separate! It involves her characters
www.rosemarysutciff.wordpress.som

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Anthony. The "inspired by the book" definition is a good one and probably emphasises the idea that it's worth viewing the film and the book as completely separate experiences.

Jan Jones said...

Oh, I was blown away by The Eagle of the Ninth at school as well (also not quite 56 yrs ago!)

Film? No, don't think so. I like my private worlds intact. For me it was the Mary Poppins experience. Adored the books as a child. The film - while good - was, er, different.

Nicola Cornick said...

It certainly was, Jan!

Michelle Styles said...

Oh I will go and see it. And before i go -- I will chant in a galaxy far ,far away.

It is great that they are making these sorts of films.

The books were excellent, but in the 56 years since they have learnt a lot more about the time period...

Amanda McCabe said...

Oooh, I remember that "Frenchman's Creek"! It was so very disappointing. I'm not sure how a film can go wrong with hunky smugglers and Gothic atmosphere, but it did.

I will totally see these two movies--I am a sucker for "swords and sandals" pics, and I loved the book way back when I read it. You've inspired me to take it off the shelf for a re-read very soon!

Nicola Cornick said...

Amanda, it's a mystery, isn't it! So much potential in the story and then the film was a dog's breakfast!

Nicola Cornick said...

Alison, I hadn't registered that Mark Strong was in The Eagle of the Ninth and then I was watching Stardust last night and went to check the cast and realised who he was. Another good reason to go and see the film. And Stardust was great as well!

Anthony said...

I had the good fortune (for such it was) to visit the filming of The Eagle of the Ninth last week. I have never been on a film set, let alone one with which I had a connection in the sense that Rosemary Sutcliff is/was a close relative ......

I came away enthused about what the film will be. It is 'inspired' by the book, but it follows (parts of) the story closely in most rspects. But in fascinating conversations with the director (Kevin Macdonald who won an oscar directing King of Scotland...) and producer (Duncan Kenworthy, producer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting hill amongst others) i got a glimpse into the thinking behind how it is turning out.

Thus for example, as he has spoken about publicly. the director has made some choices about story, and casting, and emotional emphasis precisely in order to be relevant to 2010, 55+ years on from the time in which the book was first imagined, written and read.

SO, I am hopeful for TEOTN. Centurion is a very different film, and not connected with the book itself in any way.

If you are minded, I have been gathering stuff at www.rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com and have tweet-feed at www.twitter.com/rsutcliff All contributions very very welcome!

Nicola Cornick said...

Anthony,thank you very much for sharing with us your insight into the filming of TEOTN. It sounds a wonderful experience and I for one am extremely envious. I think we are all totally sold on the film now and will look forward to it very much. I also enjoyed visiting your blog:
http://rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com/ Full of fascinating information for the Rosemary Sutcliff fan. Thank you again!