Which comes first – the book or the film?
The other day online I saw the poster for the film of Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan that’s coming out in December. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and even though I’ve seen the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version a dozen times, I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with it. When I re-read that book, which is often, I tend to picture Robert Redford. Maybe for future generations it will be Leo.
Generally as a rule I prefer to read a book before I see any film or TV adaptation. I prefer to first picture the character in my own head than have an actor’s imposed on it. My friend Fiona lent me Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and urged me to read it before having seen the film which I duly did but all the publicity around the film was already out and I couldn’t help picturing Keira Knightley as Ruth. It was hard to dislodge her face (even though I rate her as an actress and thought her clipped brittle haughtiness was perfect for Atonement.) But when I re-read Pride and Prejudice and picture Elizabeth Bennett I manage not to see Keira Knightley’s face nor Jennifer Ehle’s from the BBC 1995 series but rather an imaginary, composite face that I have conjured up from Austen’s words.
The biggest casting furore I can remember recently, where the discrepancy between who readers had pictured in their heads and who Hollywood had cast, was Anne Hathaway as Emma Morley in the film One Day based on the book by David Nicholls. I really didn’t get the book at all (feel free to try and convert me!) so didn’t really hold the character dear to my heart but even I could see that the casting was laughable but good box office.
A book I did love which has been ruined for me by the film is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife. I had avoided it because it got such a pasting but gave in one night when it happened to be on. It wasn’t so much the casting – Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams did what they could – it was the whole adaptation. Conversely, I was really struggling with The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas and couldn’t get a handle on any of the characters at all. There are so many of them for starters. I decided not to continue with it until I saw the TV adaptation and that totally brought it to life for me and then I read it again from cover to cover and loved it.
Do you prefer to read the book first before you see the film? Can you remember any films that have ruined a book for you?