Book to screen: could you? Should you?

Haven’t we all said “that book should TOTALLY be made into a movie” at one point or another?

Black and white ca. 1940-1950 image of a young black woman threading film into an old-fashioned projector.
Susan Baptist, a projectionist, shows training films for the troops as well as more popular motion pictures. From the Library of Congress.

Yep, me too. What’s strange is that I seldom say it about a historical fiction novel. Stranger still(?), I don’t actually watch that much historical fiction.

Of these three historical fiction novels that need to be adapted for TV I’ve not read a one of them. A damn pity because they sound great: Sparta vs. Rome, WWII crime, Tudor conspiracy. When I do watch histfic it’s usually either written for the screen (The VVitch, Bomb Girls, The Americans) or adapted from a book I’ve not read (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the White Princess, Outlander [well, I read part of this but never finished]).

And I’m admittedly terrible about keeping up with TV series. I start many but seldom finish due to time and attention constraints.

That, and I have a kind of reservation about converting books to movies. Two different mediums require two very different approaches to the same story, which is where the desire to be accurate to the original collides with the need to make a textual story visually compelling. Sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone. So when pressed to come up with books that I think would make great viewing I have to strain.

Successful page to screen adaptations exist. I own all of the Sarah Waters tv miniseries: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, Affinity.  Does the The Handmaiden [trailer, YouTube] count? It’s an adaptation of Fingersmith set in 1930s Korea.

Wolf Hall, because I enjoyed the court intrigue and Cromwell’s subtle machinations. And the costumes were pretty accurate too!

I wouldn’t mind seeing Waters’ The Little Stranger (post-WWII gothic horror) put on screen. Possibly Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network (women spies in both world wars).

Don’t even ask me who I’d cast for any of these. I can barely envision my own characters!

What historical fiction would you LOVE to see on screen?

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Allison Thurman

Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture.

She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.

4 thoughts on “Book to screen: could you? Should you?”

  1. Not historical, technically, being alternate history, but I’ve always thought Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy mystery stories would make a marvelous TV series. Mainly because the magic ballistics test would look so cool! (as would quite a few of the other forensics methods)

    I recommend “Foyle’s War” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0310455/) if you’d like to see a really good WWII crime series that already exists.

    1. Okay, you have to add the Lord Darcy mystery books to your infinite to-read list. There are only three: two collections of short stories (“Murder and Magic” and “Lord Darcy Investigates”) and one novel (“Too Many Magicians”). The premise is an alternate history where Richard I cleaned up his act and lived to a ripe old age as a fairly decent ruler of England and the current ruler is one of his descendants, and the Laws of Magic were discovered and developed instead of technology. Lord Darcy is a police investigator who works in partnership with a forensics sorcerer.

      So magic ballistics is accomplished by the Law of Contagion: “… any two objects which have ever been in contact with each other have an affinity for each other which is directly proportional to the product of the degree of relevancy of the contact and the length of time they were in contact and inversely proportional to the length of time since they have ceased to be in contact.” So to determine if a bullet was fired from a particular gun you fasten the gun in a vise, put the bullet on an adjustable pedestal so it is in line with the barrel, speak the correct incantation and the bullet will whiz back into the gun if it was fired from it and stay on the pedestal if it wasn’t. All the usual crime scene and forensic investigation we’re familiar with have their magical counterparts; investigations also run into the same problems of contamination, tampering, missing evidence, coverups, etc., so the stories are excellent whodunits.

    2. Just occurred to me, most people wouldn’t think of them that way but some of Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn novels are WWII crime. The series begins several years before the war and Alleyn leaves Scotland Yard to serve with military intelligence in the Pacific for the duration so there are a few novels that are about his investigations into espionage during that time. His marriage to artist Agatha Troy occurred sometime in in early or mid-1939 and they have thus spent most of their married life in service on opposite sides of the world (she set aside her painting career for war work in Britain). The first post-war novel is memorable for early scenes of Troy worrying about whether the long separation will have an adverse effect on how they feel about each other (this is before he finally gets home)

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