Join me on a tour of my book closet … erm … library. Every week – or other week, or whenever I remember to write one of these posts – we’ll take a look at another whack of books I may (or may not) have read.
My last Reading Shelf post was a little unorthodox, but y’all seemed to enjoy talking about classics and cute guys (that’s my take-away from your comments, and I’m sticking to it), so I figured I’d tap that wellspring again. Mostly because I can talk about cute guys (and books!) all day, every day. Also, the “research” is most enjoyable. So, today, let’s talk about my favourite classic lit adaptations.
A couple of disclaimers. One, this isn’t a “best of” kind of list. My selections are based on movies or mini-series I have actually seen, based on books I have actually read. I’m not a movie critic and, more importantly, I’m a selective reader, so this criteria narrows down the field a lot. I don’t like Charles Dickens, and I don’t like depressing stories (I’m looking at you, Thomas Hardy). I don’t like Wuthering Heights. (Yeah, I said it. And I mean it.)
Two, I didn’t include any Jane Austen adaptations, since I touched on those last time. I also excluded anything Shakespearean, because I wanted to talk about novels only, and also because I don’t want to write a novel here.
Onwards. In no particular order:
I’m not a diehard George Eliot fan, but I adore Middlemarch. I just love all of the interconnected stories; it’s a rare novel that gets me to care about all of the “secondary” characters, but Middlemarch does. (Side note: Rosamund Vincy would totally be a SAHW fashion/lifestyle blogger if Eliot was writing today. She’s so the type.) The 1994 adaptation is top notch. My only quibbles would be that Juliet Aubrey looks a little bit too old as Dorothea (though she conveys her intelligence and determination very well), and Patrick Malahide too creepy and repellant as Casaubon (which is odd, because he played the suave Roderick Alleyn during the same period). Still, this one’s a must-see. And if you need convincing, there is the …
Eye candy: Rufus Sewell (Will Ladislaw). Those cheekbones, you guys. I would totally get myself disinherited (and worse) for those cheekbones.
As bonus eye candy, we have Jonathan Firth (as Fred Vincy) … who I just discovered to be Colin Firth’s younger brother. How did I not know this before?! Anyway, he’s pretty cute, though in a decidedly non-Colin Firth way.
The Way We Live Now
I am a huge Anthony Trollope fan. Huge. I think it’s a crying shame that he’s not more widely read these days, especially as compared to certain other authors (cough, Dickens, cough). The Way We Live Now is one of his better known novels, and it’s a pretty good one. Some of the sub-plots are boring (I don’t care about the romantic destinies of Mrs. Hurtle or Ruby Ruggles), but Trollope was a deft hand at moving the story along at a lively pace. The 2001 mini-series was solid.
Eye candy: Cillian Murphy (Paul Montague). Cillian is not really my cup of tea, but he looks pretty enough to carry the romantic hero mantle in this one.
There is also Matthew McFaddyen, but he plays a cad (with a goofy haircut) so YMMV.
Bright Young Things
It’s rare that I prefer a movie adaptation to the original book, but this Stephen Fry-directed adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies might be one of those exceptions. I’m a little bit obsessed with the lives of 1920s English aristocratic socialites (also known, not coincidentally, as the Bright Young Things), and this movie captures the atmosphere of that era and social group so well. Also, the clothes – so gorgeous.
Eye candy: Stephen Campbell Moore (Adam). I have a terrible weakness for Brits, but not, like, your typical Britishy-looking Brits. (Except for Rupert Penry Jones. You’re lucky I didn’t include his photo in this post just because. And I might still change my mind about that.) SCM falls in that category, but I still kinda dig him in this role.
Let’s not forget a young James McAvoy.
There is also Michael Sheen (not my type, but perhaps yours), and David Tennant (looking goofy and not very Doctor-esque, sadly).
Portrait of the Lady
I went through a phase in my late teens when I was obsessed with PotL. I think I read the book a half dozen times in the span of a year or so (and underlined bits of it, and everything), and saw the 1996 Jane Campion-directed movie just as many times. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with the movie, because I love Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer (one of my favourite literary heroines), and hate John Malkovich as Gilbert Osmond. Wonderful actor, terrible miscasting. (See also below.) I would have bought (1996) Gary Oldman in the role. Or everybody’s favourite almost-ginger, Michael Fassbender (though he would have been too young in 1996). Anyone but John Malkovich. The rest of the cast is great, though, especially Martin Donovan. And I love the look and feel of the movie too. Really, it’s a great one – watch it.
Eye candy: Viggo Mortensen (Casper Goodwood). Young Viggo. Enough said.
Can you believe that I had forgotten that Christian Bale was in this movie? I am a terrible fangirl. Anyway, he is … looking very young and adorable.
I actually watched the 2008 mini-series before I read the book, but I enjoyed both immensely. I love that the sub-plots in Cranford all center around women, at various stages of life, rather than men – a relatively rare thing in classic lit. There are some romantic elements to the novel, but they’re not the main attraction … not that you’ll really notice.
Eye candy: Simon Woods (Dr. Frank Harrison). Not really my type (he looks like a blond Elijah Wood here, doesn’t he?), but whatever. This isn’t really a story about teh sex.
Let me start by saying that Les Liaisons Dangereuses is one of my favourite classic lit novels. I hate epistolary novels, but this one is so seductively witty and engrossing, it makes me forget that. I like both movie adaptations of it, although I’m somewhat more partial to Dangerous Liaisons. Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman are perfection in their respective roles. But, you guys, the curse of miscast John Malkovich strikes again. He is a terrible Valmont. Horrible. Valmont is supposed to be sexy. Dangerous but irresistible. John Malkovich is many things, but sexy … no. I will argue with you about this, if need be, all day. I really, really would love a new adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. I need to spend some time thinking about my casting choices … In the meantime, there is …
Eye candy: Colin Firth (Valmont). Listen, he’s a far better choice for the role than Malkovich. Not my ideal choice, but infinitely better. He’s badly handicapped by that ridiculous wig, but I’ll chalk that up to late 80s movie wardrobe budget limitations.
And let’s not forget the also comically miscast Keanu Reeves, still looking fairly cute despite the abomination on his head.
I’ve read all 3 volumes of the Forsyte Saga, but I like the first one best. The 2002 adaptation covers the first two books, I believe, but I kinda lost interest in it after Phil … spoiler alert … dies. It’s a nicely done adaptation, though, so don’t be deterred by my capricious attention-span.
Eye Candy: Ioan Gruffud (Phil Bossiney). I couldn’t find an in-character photo, so you get this broody one. Gruffud is not the best actor out there (have you seen The Fantastic Four?), but he sure is pretty. (I’ll just add an unrelated PSA here for King Arthur, which is a schlocky movie that’s a veritable hot guy buffet: Clive Owen, Mads Mikkelsen, Ioan Gruffud, Hugh Dancy … tell me you have watched it already, or are lining it up in your Netflix queue right now.)
Back to the Forsyte Saga, there is also Damien Lewis. I’m not a fan of gingers, but I expect that some of you are, so in the interests of inclusiveness, I did my best to find a good photo for you. You’re welcome.
I Capture the Castle
I’ve written about I Capture the Castle before, so I won’t repeat myself. The movie is quite good, mostly due to its solid British cast and despite the American contingent. I think both of the Cotton brothers (the aforementioned Americans) are woefully miscast, which is a shame, because it kinda robs of the story of most of its emotional heat. Nonetheless, it’s a perfectly enjoyable, lazy Sunday-afternoon kind of show. If not for the kidlets, I would be watching it again right now. Mostly because …
Eye candy: Henry Cavill (Stephen Colley). I still can’t believe Cassandra passed on THIS. For the E.T. kid, of all people. Jeebus.
Like I said, there is some questionable casting here. Who is going to pay attention to Henry Thomas or that guy from Buffy (who isn’t Angel or Spike) when the hotness that is Henry Cavill (playing a sweet guy with a heart of gold) is around? Nobody, that’s who.
Little Women (the movie) is like comfort food. I’ll binge watch it when I need the warm-n-fuzzies. Although I absolutely adore the 1994 version, I got a little excited last year when the rumours surfaced about a possible remake. It’s not that I hate the 1994 casting choices (quite the opposite); I’m just intrigued by the possibilities offered by the 2014 acting field. I’m not sure if the remake is still happening, but feel free to speculate with me in the comments. But let’s not forget …
Eye candy: Christian Bale (Laurie). Yeah, I know. Again. I guess I should have added my Bale-bias to my disclaimer. CB as Laurie is another one of those touchstones of my adolescence, like Paul Rudd in Clueless. I’m still mad he ended up with Amy. Humbug.
There is also Eric Stoltz as John Brooke (my one exception to the no-gingers rule, and mostly because I’m a John Hughes junkie), and Gabriel Byrne as Prof. Bhaer (too old for my taste, but I’m willing to concede YMMV here).
I’m really fascinated by the stories of American heiresses who married into the British aristocracy, in a reverse “invasion” of sorts, at the end of the 19th century. Edith Wharton’s Buccaneers, her last and sadly unfinished novel, is loosely based on the lives of women like Consuelo Vanderbilt and Consuelo Yznaga, and offers a glimpse into their luxurious but constrained world. (If you want to read more about them, I highly recommend Marian Fowler’s In a Gilded Cage: From Heiress to Duchess.) The tacked-on ending of the 1995 mini-series is controversial, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyable adaptation overall. I love the performances of the female leads, especially Carla Gugino and Mira Sorvino.
Eye Candy: Greg Wise (Guy Thwaite). Not long before he played the caddish Willoughby in 1997’s Sense and Sensibility, Greg Wise played the nice guy here. Hate the mustache, but he’s rocking a Rufus Sewell-ish vibe, so I dig.
There is also a young James Frain (who has his fans, I believe) as the villain-ish Duke of Tintagel.
Cold Comfort Farm
I’ve also talked about Cold Comfort Farm before, so I’ll just urge you again to read it. Do it. And then watch the 1995 movie. It is so good, not even the presence of Kate Beckinsale can ruin it. (Not a fan, sorrynotsorry.) Especially because …
Eye candy: Rufus Sewell (Cousin Seth). Yes, again. You know the whole book-ending thing that fashun bloggers love? This is my cute guy version of that. Look at this photo and tell me you mad.
Alright, your turn: what are your favourite classic lit adaptations? Who is your hot-guy-of-classic-lit of choice? Which book adaptations would you like to see re-made, and who’d make your dream cast? Tell me everything in the comments.