A book is sometimes even better when adapted for TV or a movie

  • Seema Goswami
  • Updated: Jun 04, 2016 19:46 IST
I am a tad nervous about how Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet (to be adapted into a TV series) and Jo Baker’s novel, Longbourn, (to be made into a movie) will survive the transition; the one author whose works I long to see on television is Georgette Heyer

If you are a fan of Elena Ferrante, and (like me) are suffering withdrawal pangs after having devoured every word she has ever written, then I have some good news for you. The Italian film and television production company, Wildside, has announced that it is working on adapting Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet into a TV series, along with producer Fandango. The series will be shot in Italy, and in Italian.

The four novels, which trace the friendship of Lenu and Lina over half a century, will be adapted into a four-season TV series, with each novel taking in eight episodes, making it a 32-episode blockbuster. Ferrante is believed to be involved in the production, though nobody quite knows in what capacity or how closely. But then, given that nobody even knows who Ferrante is – she is still zealously clinging tight to her anonymity – that can’t be very surprising.

No release date has been announced but I am already salivating with anticipation. The story of Lenu and Lina consumed me entirely as I raced to the final book in the quartet, The Story of the Lost Child, and I can’t wait to see this tale of female friendship retold in a visual medium.

Of course, this anticipation is tinged with a dash of fear. It is the same fear that every book-lover experiences when a well-loved book is turned into a movie or a TV series. I felt that fear when the first season of Game of Thrones was released, not sure how that tale of kings and knights, love and lust, pride and passion, would work on the TV screen.

Would it all look a bit ridiculous, like some costume dramas tend to do? Would the story have the same power on TV as it did in the book? Would the characters be reduced to caricatures because of the demands of the visual medium? Would it just become yet another bodice-ripper of the kind that litter the television universe?

You can imagine my relief when the TV series proved to be as much of a triumph as the books. Of course, I felt a little miffed that I already knew what was going to happen, thus losing out on the thrill of anticipation that other viewers, who hadn’t read the book, were feeling. But then, George RR Martin, rather obligingly, went off script in the later seasons, and I could watch with the same edge-of-the-seat excitement that non-readers were privileged to experience.

So, yes, I am a tad nervous about how the Ferrante will survive the transition to our TV screens. Just as I am both nervous and excited about the movie adaptation of Longbourn that is in the works. Random House Studio and Focus Features have acquired the film rights to Jo Baker’s novel about life belowstairs in the Bennet household made famous by Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), and the release date is tentatively set for 2017. I just hope and pray that this adaptation remains true to the original and doesn’t go down the Downton Abbey route.

One hopes a new film releasing next year based on a book acquired by Random House Studio and Focus Features doesn’t go down the

But the one author whose works I long to see on television is Georgette Heyer (just one of her books, The Reluctant Widow, has been made into a film – and a pretty bad one at that!). The prolific author of Regency romances has given us such amazing characters as The Grand Sophy, Arabella, Frederica, Venetia, and it would be an absolute treat to see them come alive on the TV screen. But for some reason, British TV companies are too busy filming Pride and Prejudice again and again and again to pay any attention to the possibilities inherent in these Heyer heroines.

And that is an absolute pity, if you ask me. Heyer tells absolutely cracking stories, intricately plotted and leavened with wit and humour. And her heroines are the absolute best; plucky little creatures who do their best in a society that hems them around with strict rules of etiquette.

Who else but Heyer could come up with a heroine like Sophia Stanton-Lacy who comes visiting her aunt with a little monkey to gift her young cousins, and thinks nothing of confronting an evil moneylender with an elegant but effective pistol? Or the impish Leonie de Saint-Vire, who masquerades as a young page in Parisian society, before being unveiled as an aristocratic beauty? Or even the stunningly beautiful Deborah Grantham, relegated to the fringes of polite society as Faro’s Daughter, who makes the greatest conquest of them all?

I could go on listing the marvellous, resourceful, witty, intelligent, beautiful women who people Heyer’s stories (the headstrong Lady Serena Carlow, Judith Taverner, Mary Challoner are just some names that come to mind), but then we’d be here forever. Instead you could go over to petitionbuzz.com and sign a petition asking that Heyer’s novels be made into movies.

Though, if you ask me, television is better suited to telling Heyer’s stories (in my view, movies are like short stories, only TV series can do justice to the sweep of a novel). Surely the BBC or ITV, which spends millions on period dramas of dubious quality, could pick up one Heyer Regency romance – my personal favourite would be The Grand Sophy – and adapt it into a six-part series. I would bet my entire collection of tattered copies of Heyer’s novels that it would do so well that production companies would be scrambling for the rights to the books yet to be filmed.

So, come on guys, look sharp. This is a world of fiction beyond Jane Austen and Julian Fellowes that beckons.

From HT Brunch, June 5, 2016

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