9 Great Adaptations You've Probably Never Seen


You've almost definitely seen all the big adaptations - Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Harry Potter - but there are quite a few books out there (we know, we were surprised too) and some of their adaptations have fallen by the wayside.

Rather than watch Frodo walking toward a volcano for the umpteenth time, try one of these less famous adaptations. And then read the book, if you haven't already, of course.


(Images: AllStar/Rex)


From the late 20th/early 21st century period when messing about with Shakespeare was trendy, but before the time when people worried about whether their title was Google-able. Director Tim Blake Nelson, better known as an actor in films like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, transposed the story of betrayal and jealousy to high school. And as you can imagine, it totally worked.


Everything Is Illuminated

It's a shame that Liev Schreiber hasn't directed another film, because this, his debut, showed enormous promise. Jonathan Safran Foer's book is extremely eccentric, telling the story of a Jewish man (Elijah Wood) reluctantly teaming up with a strange local, an old man and his weird dog, to find the woman who saved his grandfather in World War II. And Schreiber captured its mood perfectly, with just slightly odd imagery and a stormer of a performance from singer Eugene Hutz, who has sadly since disappeared back into obscurity.


Death of a Salesman

Brian Dennehy won every award going for his portrayal of the depressed travelling salesman on stage. He reprised the role for a TV version, which is still very stagey but showcases Dennehy's phenomenal performance. There have been a few filmed versions of Arthur Miller's play, but Dennehy's turn makes this arguably the best.


Suddenly Last Summer

Tennesse Williams, a playwright who likes a bit of overwrought madness, outdid himself with this. A young woman (Elizabeth Taylor) is institutionalised after her cousin's strange death. That cousin's mother has been trying to cover up the details of his demise and threatens to have the woman lobotomised. Then a truth serum - yes, it's that kind of movie - allows her to reveal the grisly truth about what happened that terrible day. Trust us, you'll never guess what it was.


Dolores Claiborne

Most adaptations of Stephen King novels are scary. This is haunting. It tells of a reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who goes home when her mother (Kathy Bates) is accused of murdering the woman for whom she worked as a maid for many years. It's pure melodrama elevated by a strong cast, particularly Kathy Bates, who could never hope to match the Oscar-winning form of her other King film, Misery, but gives it her absolute all.



Adapted from James Ellroy's Blood on the Moon, this stars James Woods - why don't we see him in much these days? - as the classic renegade cop who is convinced that a serial killer is on the loose in LA and is determined to catch him, even if that means disobeying his superiors. It's not the best Ellroy adaptation - that's obviously L.A. Confidential - but it's an enjoyable, cynical thriller.


Oliver Twist

For good reason, David Lean's version of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist is still seen as the definitive adaptation of the story of the orphan boy who dared to ask for more. That probably explains why this version, by Roman Polanski came and went with very little impact. But it's worth digging out if you've never seen it as Polanski takes a deeper look at the story, homing in on not heroes and villains but the mixture in between.


The Duellists

Way back when, before he was famous, Ridley Scott made The Duellists, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's The Duel. It traces the life of two Napoleonic officers (Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) who duel over a minor incident. In the following 30 years they duel again and again, with every time more furious than the last, until the obsession with destroying the other takes over both men's lives. The visual panache gave an early hint of what a visionary director Scott would become.



Nora Ephron is most famous as the screenwriter of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle, or as an essay writer, but she also wrote one novel, Heartburn. It's practically an autobiography, following the break-up of a marriage exactly modeled on her own. The movie, directed by Mike Nichols, doesn't have the big laughs or romance of Ephron's big hits, obviously, but with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson in the leads there's plenty here worth watching.



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