Today: April 14, 2024

Classic Literature

This week sees the release of Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Jane Eyre. So far, Cary’s adaptation has received rave reviews for illuminating a classic tale to a new generation.

This week sees the release of Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte
Bronte’s classic novel, Jane Eyre. So far, Cary’s adaptation has received rave
reviews for illuminating a classic tale to a new generation.
Bearing this in mind, FilmJuice decided to take a look at the variety of
classic novels re-imagined on the big screen and ask why there narrative have
captured the imagination of filmmakers for generations. Love, passion and
sexuality seem to be recurring themes that answer this question. Here are some
of the good, bad and controversial classic novels adapted to the big screen.

This Week

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte published her most
celebrated novel in 1847 at 30 years old – she would die only eight years
later. Jane Eyre depicts the life of the title character, an orphan, who
suffers at the hands of her cruel aunt. Jane finds a new home and a fresh start
with employment at Thornefield House serving aristocrat Mr Rochester, who she
eventually falls in love with. Of course, all is not what it seems and his dark
secret threatens to destroy her new found happiness. Jane Eyre has always been lauded as ahead of its time, showing the
thought process and emotions of its female protagonist. It is also an early
example of feminism, as despite Jane’s many abuses at the hands of others she
is never seen as a damsel in distress but a fighter with a quiet dignity and
strong moral compass.

On screen?

What’s not to love? At its heart Bronte’s
novel is a coming of age story laced with dignity against adversity, passion,
romance, a blazing fire and a mad woman locked in a room. Pair this with a back
drop of sprawling English countryside and it’s a filmmakers dream. Fukunaga
chose to cast Mia Wasikowska as
Jane, who, in the novel, is described as ‘small and plain’ and ‘poor and
obscure’. She is a humble, spirited and kind underdog who the audience will inevitably
be rooting for from the start. Mr Rochester, who Fukunaga cleverly cast Michael Fassbender to play, is dashing
but not instantly likeable. The pairs developing friendship and barely
containable passion is riveting to read. There have been many adaptations of
Bronte’s novel – some as early as 1910 according IMBD – another by Mary Poppins’ director Robert Stevenson in 1943 and in 1996 Charlotte Gainsbourg played the title
role in a Franco Zeffirelli’s
version. Fukunaga’s adaptation is fast paced avoiding all the stuffiness
normally associated with a period drama.

Up-and-coming

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was a famous writer of post-First
World War America. He was part of a set often referred to as the ‘lost
generation’, where disillusioned young men and women sought solace from the
atrocities of war in an empty pursuit of pleasure that included parties,
alcohol and illicit affairs. He published his most popular work, The Great
Gatsby, in 1925. Set shortly after
the First World War it is a story about love, betrayal, loneliness and
friendship. Gatsby is a wealthy war veteran who has come back to town to seek
out his old love, Daisy, who he discovers is now married to an unfaithful
husband. It ends in tragedy with Gatsby destined to suffer a cruel fate trying
to protect Daisy.

On Screen?

Themes of thwarted love, longing, tragedy and
glamour have attracted filmmakers to Ftizgerald’s novel that ultimately depicts
the demise of the American dream. It was originally adapted in 1974 by Jack Clayton with Robert Redford playing the lonesome Gatsby and Mia Farrow as the dapper Daisy. But who can transform this
glamorous tragedy from page to screen with all the panache it deserves? If we’re speaking of love and tragedy –
it has to be Baz Luhrmann, of
course! He is currently shooting his version of The Great Gatsby in Sydney,
Australia. Leonardo Dicaprio stars as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy alongside Toby Maguire and Isa Fisher.
Most shocking and controversial of
all, Luhrmann is shooting his adaptation in 3D, something purest fans of the
book are no doubt incensed by. We’re sure Luhrmann can do justice to such a
beloved novel and bring it to a new audience just as he did Romeo and Juliet.

Other classic works of literature that have captured filmmaker’s
imagination time and time again include:

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Perhaps the most controversial on the list is
Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, first
published in English in1955. The audience follow Nabokov’s unreliable middle-aged
narrator Humbert Humbert, as he becomes sexually obsessed with 12 year-old Dolores
Haze for whom his nickname is Lolita. Nabokov’s book became internationally
famous with the name Lolita synonymous with a sexually precocious girl. It was
listed in the World Library’s list of one of The 100 Best Books of All Time.

On Screen?

Depicting the illicit relationship between
a 12 year-old girl and middle-aged man on screen with tact and sensitivity, while
capturing Nabokov’s tragic undertones and pity for Humbert, is a precarious
task. One that was attempted by Stanley
Kubrick
in 1962 and Adrian Lynne
in 1997 with Jeremy Irons playing
Humbert. In Kubrick’s successful adaptation he waters down Humbert’s
transgression by raising Lolita’s age by three years and casting a sixteen year
old Sue Lyon; however, he in turn
did the same to the novel’s passion and sexual tension. Nevertheless, it helped
Kubrick’s define himself as an auteur. Lynne’s version was accused by some of
the press of glamorising paedophilia, due to some very close to the mark sexual
scenes. However, it clearly does anything but – sexual crime certainly doesn’t
pay off for Humbert. As critically acclaimed as Kubrick’s version is, Lynne is
more successful and catching the tone of Nabokov’s novel.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence

Lawrence’s raunchy novel about class, sex and
nature was fairly controversial at the time of its publication in 1928.
Lawrence intently and explicitly depicts an awakening affair between inhibited Lady
Chatterley and her earthy lover, gamekeeper Oliver Mellors. Not only does Lawrence
go into detail about the relations between the two but he also uses then
un-publishable words such as c**t
to do so. At its core Lawrence’s story is about relationships and how they
drive human life and bind people together – a theme that is regularly explored
in films today, such as in Patrick
Marber’s Closer
.

On screen?

It’s no surprise considering the subject
matter that this book has captured the imagination of many a movie maker. When
depicting Lady Chatterley’s Lover on film there is a danger a director may
focus too much on the sex and neglect the tenderness and relationships
concerned. It has been adapted several times by foreign filmmakers, many just
focusing on sexual folly. The most recent adaptation was by French director Pascale Ferran in 2006. It was also
adapted several times in the English language in 1981 and 1993, the latter which
starred Joely Richardson, both of
which seem to have been largely ignored by critics. Pascale was the closest to
hitting the nail on the head, his version allowed the romance between the
lovers to unfold naturally on screen capturing the intimate expression of love
and sexuality.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Who doesn’t know the story of Romeo and
Juliet? It is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play. The longevity of many of
Shakespeare’s tales is due to their relevance to modern society, and in a world
made up of a jigsaw of religions and cultures; forbidden love is still
extremely prevalent today. For those who don’t know, its plot is about the
forbidden love between the title characters, which ends in their untimely
death, proving that love has no boundaries and that tragedy can illuminate the
prejudices of others.

On screen?

When talking about Romeo and Juliet there can
be only one film that springs to mind? Baz Luhrmann’s fantastically stylised
modern day adaptation, which launched the careers of a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes, featured guns blazing and
fast cars. Luhrmann illuminated a piece of literary history for a generation
who were most likely bored of reading it in school. Although it divided top
critics – some resenting his fast paced cinematic interpretation – while others
respected his unique take. The success of Luhrmann’s adaptation is largely due
to his capturing the innocence that is at the heart of the original play and
making it the core of his film. Romeo and Juliet was also adapted several other
times, a less successful version in 1936 and in a more traditional way by Franco Zeffirelli in 1968, which
received critical acclaim.


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

A list of classic adaptations wouldn’t be the
same without a mention of a Charles Dickens’ book. Although there are many to
choose from, Great Expectations embodies the themes of passion, tragedy and
controversial love depicted throughout this list so far. Parentless kip’s life
changes after he helps a criminal escape his chains and is introduced to the
enchanting Estrella. Pip is helpless to falling in love with his young muse,
and also helpless to her flighty and teasing ways, ingrained in her by her
heartbroken and eccentric mistress Mrs Haversham.

On screen?

Great Expectations is a good example of how
interpretations of a classic literary novel can either go swimmingly or turn
out as damp as a wet fish. Following a
1916 version and a 1934 remake, David
Lean
released his version in 1946. It remains the definitive adaptation of
this Dickens’ novel. Built around Pip’s obsession with the beautiful Estrella,
but never neglecting the secondary characters, which, as in every Dickens’ story,
prove colourful and vital to the essence of the story, such as Miss Haversham.
Lean retrains the developing intrigue of the story while maintaining the tone
of Dickens’ original tale. Fast forward 54 years and we have an entirely
different adaptation of Great Expectations headed up by Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan
Hawke
. This modern day version failed spectacularly to retain the spirit of
Dickens’ novel and turned it into to a vapid, perfume advert-esque sequence of
scenes only saved marginally by Robert De
Niro
as the sinister criminal in shadows.


Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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