In this, the second part in Mentor Education‘s ‘best literary film adaptations’ series (you can read part one here), we’ll list a few more of our favourite book-to-screen interpretations. From Victorian literature to the Roaring Twenties, there’s something for everyone on this list! Grab the popcorn and enjoy…
Written by Harper Lee in 1960, this classic of American literature is still as relevant today as it was then – and is still often taught in schools. A powerful exploration of racial inequality, sexual violence and injustice, the story focuses on a white lawyer’s struggle to defend a black man against a rape charge whilst trying to protect the man’s family from intimidation and violence.
The acclaimed literary film followed shortly after the novel’s publication – and was received enthusiastically by critics and audiences alike (earning more than six times its budget at the box office). In 2007, the film ranked 25th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. With fantastic performances (particularly by Gregory Peck, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch), atmospheric photography, and a moving script, To Kill a Mockingbird is a faithful and emotive adaptation of Lee’s groundbreaking novel.
From an American classic to a milestone of English literature, we turn next to Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield. Though this coming-of-age story has been adapted many times, Armando Iannucci’s recent interpretation – starring Dev Patel and Hugh Laurie – was particularly successful, and is our personal favourite.
In David Copperfield, we follow David’s journey from his troubled childhood into adulthood, when – after various trials and tribulations – he becomes a successful writer. Dickens’ famous wit and sense of compassion are captured perfectly in this vibrant adaptation, though it does omit some of the darker moments (the demise of Dora, Copperfield’s wife, is not mentioned). However, the zest, humour and affection of Iannucci’s film, coupled with the diverse cast, make this a pacy re-telling of the famous tale – one which makes Victorian London seem quite modern, and all the more accessible even for a younger viewer who is unfamiliar with Dickens’ world.
The Great Gatsby, one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novels, encapsulates a powerful moment in American history: the end of the Roaring Twenties, a time of excess and indulgence, when society teetered on the brink of ruin (ahead of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that followed). As such, there is a breeze that wafts through the novel; despite the glitz and glamour of life in New York, everything is ephemeral and liable to drift away. This atmosphere – both seductive and repellent – is very difficult to capture, though many directors and producers have tried: there have been numerous literary film adaptations over the years, from film and television productions to operas.
Though by no means perfect, Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, is a good introduction to Fitzgerald’s astounding novel. Whilst it lacks some of the bite of Fitzgerald’s piece – which carefully undercuts the superficiality and extravagance of American high society and introduces the bold concept of an unreliable narrator in Nick Carraway – it’s a good introduction for younger readers: full of visual spectacle, energy, enthusiasm, and big production values.