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It’s an age-old question – is the book or the movie better? Well, saner minds have debated this topic and failed, so we challenged our favourite book club to find an absolute answer. Yeah, right.
Let’s set the scene. It’s the day of the royal wedding. We’re all perched in full costume glued to the Channel 9 coverage ready for the blessed event. The guest list includes Her Majesty the Queen (Janet) sipping on a Corona, her “beautiful” daughter-in-law Camilla (special guest Lindy) making herself comfortable as she stretches her bunions on the ottoman, the bride (Babs) and groom (Neen) and toe-sucking fabulous Fergie (Sandra).
Our ring-in for this article is our lovely friend, Lindy who is rocking her Camilla outfit. Lindy has joined us to assist us with our current writing task – book versus movie. We had to start with our favourite book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or as Sandra calls it, “that potato book”. Having read the book three times each, we decided to meet at the local cinema when the movie recently came out. Lindy was first on our list as she lived out her childhood in Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands which was also under German occupation during the war. There’s still a German bunker owned by the family on the island. Lindy has amazing stories that mirror the events told in the book and depicted in the movie. Sandra was also going to share her travel stories about Guernsey and Jersey but as soon as she started speaking, she realised she only really remembers the pubs!
Meanwhile, the Queen is not amused. She’s our hostess and has to serve us all, and we can hear her throwing the empties in the bin with gusto. Good thing she’s cracking open more beers. There is a Groundhog Day flow to the evening and Fergie is obsessed with popping a bloody pimple. So the scene is set and we begin discussing whether film versions of books are actually better than books.
We thought the movie version of “that potato book” was gorgeous but had one or two reservations. The romance in the book really captured the reader through the scores of letters to and fro, but this aspect was a bit lost in the film. On the plus side, we were all completely overcome with lust for the actor who portrayed Dawsey Adams. We’re sure his performance will definitely increase the popularity of the film, and we Googled him madly after the show – in the interests of research of course. We even made an effort to read about him. That’s right, we didn’t just obsess over pictures.
In discussing the merits of book versus film, for us it all seemed to keep coming back to the casting of the lead man. So does your imagination match the hottest ticket in Hollywood? Usually no, even though Dawsey hit the mark. Babs presented her example of a chronically miscast character. We all adored the book The Time Traveller’s Wife and had great empathy for the lead character Henry. But Eric Bana was a great disappointment to Babs, and the rest of us agreed that we could have cast it better had we wandered into the local footy club. We couldn’t quite grasp the concept of “Poida” travelling through time to appear suddenly, naked to Rachel McAdams.
Another example. Jamie Fraser from Outlander is an iconic character. Neen is still waiting for a quiet TV spot to watch to spare the children the embarrassing but fabulous sex scenes, but she was still too captivated by the book series to ever feel the satisfaction of the film/television version. In the book, Jamie is described as a man-mountain and although the actor playing him is quite gorgeous and muscular as depicted in the Diana Gabaldon epic, he is too short! Or Claire is too tall. We can’t get past it. No offence Sam Heughan, Neen lamented, you are a great hunk o’ spunk but I had something else in mind.
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Babs had a coloured picture book version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that she read as a child over and over and still believes that the 1971 version with the delightful Gene Wilder outshone the book. Sorry Roald, we all agree! As for you Johnny Depp, while Babs is a huge fan, stick with Gilbert Grape and Chocolat.
We then conjured an image of Edward and his family from Twilight, yes, the unimaginably good looking vampire clan. Of course Robert Pattinson, as lovely as he is, falls sadly short of the stunning fellows of our imaginations. Honestly, they all looked like they were in need of a warm bath.
The Harry Potter movies can stand alone as they follow the story closely and bring you in with the amazing effects. Having said that, while they’ve packed in a lot of information, the reader has a far greater understanding of the underlying details to make sense of what is happening. In our opinion the first few books were a better read as JK seemed to be writing the later novels for the screen.
Janet reminds us that Call the Midwife is another stand-out. “I watched the series before reading the book. Yes I know that’s a no-no, but I quickly decided that the book can go back on the bookshelf. Stick with the screen, it beats it hands down.”
The one exception that we can all agree on where the book and film are equally appealing is the brilliant To Kill a Mockingbird. Neen has read the book many times and watched the movie even more and is completely sold on both. Reading that was her first experience of truly loving a book and having that bittersweet moment at the last page. The film reinforced that feeling with the incredible portrayal of Atticus by Gregory Peck, the haunting soundtrack and the enchanting performance of the children.
Sadly, Sandra has no input today as she cannot take her eyes off the royal wedding. Meanwhile the “Queen” is still slaving over us and cleaning up. She is still clearly not amused.
The jury is still out though when it comes to this debate, there are too many variables. The writer, the filmmaker, your own imagination.
While seeing a favourite book coming to life on the screen is enticing, things are left out and some things aren’t resolved as written, although only the reader would know exactly what. We do love the idiot box, we do love the screen, but nothing can beat the beautiful prose of a passionate expressive writer. Take the time, read the book.