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10 famous British shows adapted from novels that you must watch

Is it or is it not better than the book, that is the question. Be it age-old classics, whodunnits with quirky detectives or new-age fiction novels,some of the best shows from BBC First are now airing in India. Here’s a list of 10 best British TV series adapted from books.

tv Updated: Jun 27, 2017 19:08 IST
BBC’s six-part adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace is being aired on Zee Cafe every Monday.
BBC’s six-part adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace is being aired on Zee Cafe every Monday.

There are TV Shows… and then there are TV shows that have been adapted from famous novels. When a TV show is adapted from a book, there is the inevitable clash between the book and the show on whether the series does justice to the book. TV shows give a grand canvas to some great stories and make them come alive for audiences.

Be it age-old classics, whodunnits with quirky detectives or new-age fiction novels, some of the best shows from BBC First are now airing in India. Here’s a list of 10 best Brit TV series adapted from books.

1. WAR AND PEACE

One of Tolstoy’s finest literary achievements, this novel chronicles the history of the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families. Though the novel has been adapted multiple times for both the big and small screen, one of the best adaptions by far is BBC’s six-part adaptation of the novel written by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper. This series is being aired on Zee Café every Monday. The critically acclaimed series was placed at #5 by The Telegraph (UK) in its list of the greatest television adaptations of all time, stating “It is safe to say that this is the greatest TV costume drama of the past decade and has raised the bar in a genre for which we are already renowned all over the world”.

2. PARTNERS IN CRIME

This six-part drama finally saw Tommy and Tuppence take their rightful place alongside Poirot and Marple as iconic Agatha Christie characters. It showcased Agatha Christie’s 1922 novel The Secret Adversary and 1941 novel N or M?. This compelling new adaptation, with Christie’s much-loved characters Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple who solve crimes together, is a favourite among fans old and new.

3. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

This 1995 award-winning adaptation by Andrew Davies from Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of the same name elevated Colin Firth to stardom! His portrayal of the legendary Mr Darcy caught the imagination of fans across the globe. Pride and Prejudice was critically acclaimed and was honoured with several awards, including a BAFTA Television Award for Jennifer Ehle for Best Actress and an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries’.

4. MAIGRET

Being telecast on Zee Café every Friday, this crime drama is an adaptation of the Maigret books based on a fictional French police detective, actually a commissioner of the Paris Brigade Criminelle. Maigret is a popular character created by writer Georges Simenon around which seventy-six novels and twenty-eight short stories were published between 1931 and 1972. In this BBC First production, Rowan Atkinson, the actor who has so far tickled your funny bone as Mr Bean, will now be seen essaying the role of Jules Maigret. Rowan’s portrayal of the French detective makes you forget that he was ever Mr. Bean and truly distances himself from his iconic comedic roles. Rather than pulling funny faces, he adopts a forlorn, furrowed demeanour. Rowan’s portrayal of the pipe-smoking Maigret has been acclaimed by critics as ‘brilliant’ and ‘a masterclass in understatement’. Rowan as Maigret is a gruff, but patient and fair, brooding sleuth puffing contemplatively on his pipe as he attempts to solve the latest grisly murder on the streets of Paris in 1950s.

5. ABOVE SUSPICION

This crime drama is based on the series of Anna Travis novels written by Lynda La Plante and stars Kelly Reilly and Ciarán Hinds as the lead protagonists. The show follows the work of D.C. Anna Travis played by actress Kelly Reilly, a rookie detective determined to prove herself in the male-dominated police department by solving a trail of gruesome murders left by an unknown serial killer. About her role, Reilly had said, “Well, she’s not a political character like Jane Tennison, she’s not fighting her ground and it’s almost like she just doesn’t care. She has an insouciance… she wears those skirts and those heels, and while I don’t think she uses her femininity or anything like that, she just doesn’t hide it. There’s a dilemma for the audience, because normally your prejudices would invite you to dismiss a woman like her who seems a bit awkward and wears tight skirts. But she brings something fresh in among those hackneyed male detectives”.

6. WOLF HALL

The critics have been unanimous in their praise of the six-part series adaptation of two of Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The historical drama is a fictionalised biography documenting Thomas Cromwell through his rise in social hierarchy. This series has received the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series while Review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes gave the show a 100% rating based on 29 reviews with an average rating of 8.6/10. The critical consensus of the show read: “Beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted, Wolf Hall masterfully brings Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels to life.”

7. SS-GB

This drama series that airs on Zee Café every Thursday is an alternate history drama thriller based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Len Deighton. Set in a 1941 alternative timeline when the Germans have won the Battle of Britain, detective Douglas Archer finds himself working under the brutal SS in occupied London. The script written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade slot together the plot’s intricate jigsaw as factions within both the resistance and the occupiers enter the deadly endgame.

8. CALL THE MIDWIFE

One of the most successful new drama series on BBC One since 2001, this show is an adaptation of the best-selling memoirs of Jennifer Worth about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Call the Midwife has been loved by audiences in both the UK and the US and the series has won numerous awards and nominations since its original broadcast. The show has also been praised for raising awareness on a variety of topical, contemporary social, cultural and economic issues, including local community, miscarriage and stillbirths, abortion and unwanted pregnancies, birth defects, poverty, illness, disease epidemics, prostitution, incest, religion, faith, racism, prejudice, alcoholism, disability, (then-illegal) homosexuality, female genital mutilation maternal, paternal and romantic love.

9. CRANFORD

This critically acclaimed multiple award-winning comedy drama TV series is based on three novellas - Cranford, My Lady Ludlow, and Mr Harrison’s Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell. It has been adapted brilliantly for TV by Heidi Thomas. Set in the early 1840s in the fictional village of Cranford in North West England, the story focuses primarily on the town’s single and widowed middle-class female inhabitants who are comfortable with their traditional way of life and place great store on propriety and maintaining an appearance of gentility. Heidi Thomas’s script subtly brings out the power of the matriarchs, the centrality of gossip and – when the chips are down – the touching sense of community. It also manages to make the town itself the main character. The result, a much-loved show with memorable characters that capture the audience’s imagination.

10. SHERLOCK

The critically acclaimed series that has made Benedict Cumberbatch a household name is now a global hit. Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, the show depicts consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) solving various mysteries in modern-day London. Holmes is assisted by his flatmate and friend, Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman), who has returned from military service in Afghanistan. Although Metropolitan Police Service Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and others are at first suspicious of Holmes, over time his exceptional intellect and bold powers of observation persuade them of his value. Through Watson’s blog documenting their adventures, Holmes becomes a reluctant celebrity with the press reporting on his cases and eccentric personal life.

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