Saturday, September 24, 2005


A few years ago whilst in London, I popped into a bookshop to find something which would help me pass an afternoon whilst my wife was shopping on Oxford Street. The book which I found, "Fortysomething" by Nigel Williams, looked promising enough, but once I started reading it, I realised that it didn't live up to its promise. After a few more readthroughs, maybe in the hope that there was something that I had missed the first time around, I gave the book away.

About a year ago, I turned on the television one Saturday to my favourite channel (Yes+, not that this name would mean much to anybody), and saw that they were broadcasting some drama with an actress that I like, Anna Chancellor. I noticed that she was playing a character called 'Estelle', and the other characters' names seemed familiar too. Then it clicked: I was watching a dramatisation of 'Fortysomething' in which the characters' names had remained, but none of the plot!

I wrote in an earlier column how television productions based on books can only hope to equal the original book and normally fall far short of this target. This (40+) was a rare example of an adaptation far outstripping the original, although that was achieved by jettisoning the original story and basically inventing a new one.

So does this count? Well, yes. The adaptation of "The Rotters' Club" invented new scenes, which whilst perverting the original story, at least made sense, so I would have to allow the invention of new scenes for 40+, even if about 90% of the 'adaptation' was new.

When I flew to America at the end of July, one of the films shown on the plane was a new adaptation of Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch". The book was autobiographical non-fiction and talked about his overwhelming passion for the Arsenal football team, in a typical self-deprecating British way. Turning this book into a film starring Colin Firth was a well-executed exercise when it was done a few years ago, and whilst it didn't retain all the charm of the book, it could stand on its own. This new version, however, was set in America, and whilst it kept the basic question asked in the original, "how does a sports-mad man cope with love and family", there was basically no other connection whatsoever with the original. The male star, Jimmy Fallon, was familiar to me from 'Saturday Night Live', but didn't make much of an impression on me as an actor. Drew Barrymore was as sweet as ever, but it has to be said that the film didn't keep my attention, even when being shown in an aeroplane with nothing else to do.

I'll let you know if I come across any other examples of a tv or film adaptation improving on the original.

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