The Best Book-to-Screen Adaptations (Part One)

Educational Facts and Fun, Family Time
Mary Lonsdale
Here are our favourite book-to-screen adaptations - ideal for a rainy day!

Finding fun, educational summer holiday activities can be a struggle – particularly when the weather turns grey and gloomy! If it’s raining or cold, a movie offers a perfect distraction: and there are some fantastic book-to-screen adaptations to indulge in. If you pick the right film, you can enjoy a few hours of escapism whilst introducing budding bookworms to some of the best novels of all time (and, hopefully, inspire them to go on and read the book next!).

Here are a few of Mentor Education‘s favourite classic book adaptations.

Adaptations of… Little Women (2019 & 1994)

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about the March family is as relevant now as when it was published in the mid-19th century. Presided over by strong matriarch Marmee, the novel charts the childhoods and challenges of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: intelligent, spirited women who are trying to find their paths in an often unfriendly (patriarchal) world.

The book has inspired countless adaptations, but we have two particular favourites. The most recent, which was directed by Greta Gerwig and released in 2019, is a clever adaptation that gives real resonance to the feminist messages of the novel. Of particular note is the film’s treatment of Amy (played by Florence Pugh), who Gerwig portrays not as the spoilt, idealistic girl commonly seen in other adaptations, but as a grounded young woman – fierce and fearless in her own way – with a real passion for art.

The 1994 adaptation, which was directed by Gillian Armstrong and also features an all-star cast including Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder, is worth watching – but for different reasons. This film is a real Hollywood blockbuster: full of lush visuals and family-friendly appeal. It’s not as electric as Gerwig’s adaptation, and focuses more on the novel’s exploration of the strong, unshakeable bond between family members, and notions of traditional roles and responsibilities.

The Railway Children (1970)

Currently ranked 66th on the British Film Institute’s Top 100 British Films, The Railway Children was something of a milestone in cinema history: one of the first ‘serious’ adaptations of a children’s book (based on the 1906 novel of the same name by E. Nesbit). The directorial debut of veteran actor Lionel Jeffries, this 1970 film is a comforting yet insightful depiction of pre-WWI England.

The Railway Children tells the story of the Waterburys, a once affluent family who are forced to leave their home in London after Charles Waterbury, their father, is accused of being a spy (and arrested). The now-impoverished Waterburys move to ‘Three Chimneys’ in Yorkshire and struggle to adjust as they wait for their father to come home. Incredibly atmospheric, the film makes great use of stunning Yorkshire panoramas, authentic costumes, and a wonderful balance of humour and sweetness that stops the drama from veering into saccharine territory. A simple but memorable tale of family and community.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

MGM’s groundbreaking 1939 film needs little introduction. Including one of Judy Garland’s most iconic roles; an incredible and memorable score; and one of the earliest uses of Technicolor, the film was a huge commercial and critical success, and was nominated for six Academy Awards (winning three).

Unsurprisingly, it’s considered the most successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Exploring some of the key issues of childhood – from facing the challenges of life alone, to forming important friendships – through music, comedy, and special effects, The Wizard of Oz is a timeless classic and a powerful example of cinema’s golden age.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

This 1995 British period drama film is generally considered to be a masterpiece. Directed by Ang Lee, with an outstanding screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also played Elinor Dashwood), the adaptation captures the spirit of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel beautifully.

The film depicts the trials and tribulations of the Dashwood family, a wealthy English family facing sudden destitution, with wit and affection. Thompson’s script is both deft and clever: though only six or seven lines from the book actually make it into the film, she teases out the core messages – exploring contemporary notions of class, wealth and character with humour and intelligence – and expands on several storylines (such as the romance between Elinor Dashwood and  Edward Ferrars) to great effect. The result is an exceedingly enjoyable film that, though deviating from the book on several occasions, nonetheless encapsulates the charm of Jane Austen’s world and the essential themes of the book in a memorable and compelling way.

A wonderful treat for all fans of classic literature!

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