If there’s one things that’s for certain, it’s that Hollywood will always turn to books instead of trying to come up with their own original ideas for movies and TV shows. Sometimes they’re good and others…err, let’s just say we’d prefer to forget them or hope for a remake.
Due to Covid 19’s impact on cinema access, 2020 was a difficult year when it came to movie releases but for streaming services like Netflix, it was golden. Here are the book adaptations released this year that I got around to watching (the titles with a star next to them are those I’ve read the book for):
Film | Based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Synopsis: Jo March reflects back and forth on her life, telling the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women, each determined to live life on her own terms.
While this movie came out in most countries in 2019, in Australia it wasn’t released until New Years Day 2020. I really enjoyed this one and have rewatched it several times since I first saw it in cinemas. The cast is fantastic and it was definitely the start of my obsession with Florence Pugh. The score is gorgeous, the costuming is great and it’s 100% pushed me to want to read the novel. We just have to overlook Emma Watson’s frequent accent breaks…
To All the Boys: PS. I Still Love You ★
Film | Based on P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
Synopsis: Lara Jean and Peter have just taken their relationship from pretend to officially official when another recipient of one of her old love letters enters the picture.
I was super excited for this release because I love the books and really enjoyed the first movie. I have to say though, I was kind of disappointed. While Jordan Fisher as John Ambrose is perfection casting if I ever saw it, the movie feels like it’s trying too hard a lot of the time and there are some frankly bizarre direction choices at points (the THREE different aerial shots of a car driving at the beginning, Lara Jean randomly lip-syncing down a school hallway, the bizarre floating kiss at the end?). On the whole though, the movie (as well as Lana & Noah) is still charming enough to be enjoyable, it just isn’t one of my favourites.
Film | Based on Emma by Jane Austen
Synopsis: Beautiful, smart and wealthy, Emma Woodhouse navigates her way through misguided matches, romantic missteps and the challenges of growing up — all to finally realize the love that has been there all along.
I saw Emma back in March and little did I know that it’d end up being my last trip to the cinema for 2020 (thanks Covid). There are a few changes from the original novel, especially in the later parts of the film, but they’re not entirely unwelcome in that they add humour, modernise the story slightly, and give audiences more insight into some of the characters. I enjoyed this movie. It drags a little around the middle (similarly to the book) but the scenery and costumes are great, Bill Nigh is fantastic as Mr Woodhouse, and I liked both Anya Taylor Joy and Johnny Flynn’s performances as Emma & Mr Knightley. Their chemistry is also great to watch. Overall, it’s a fun take on Austen even if it isn’t a perfect adaptation.
All the Bright Places ★
Film | Based on All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Synopsis: The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original book on this one and I felt pretty similarly about the adaptation. My issues with the mental health and suicide representation aside, there just isn’t all that much of a plot and the relationship between the two characters is really bland. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t rectify this. My sister and I were so darn bored watching it that we found ourselves checking how much longer we had to go several times. The film also cuts out quite a few key components from the book that contribute to the depth of the characters e.g. Finch’s abusive father. Book or movie, sorry, not for me.
Normal People ★
Limited Series | Based on Normal People by Sally Rooney
Synopsis: Normal People follows the relationship between Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron, as they navigate adulthood from their final days in secondary school to their undergraduate years in Trinity College.
This is one of those rare cases where I enjoyed the adaptation more than the book. To give you an indication of how much I loved it, I watched it twice within the space of about three months. The book and series are fairly similar but I really appreciated the adaptation’s switch to presenting events chronologically and the small changes it made to the narrative such as the altered ending (it makes so much more sense). The acting here is also phenomenal. The chemistry between the two leads is unbelievable and I’m telling you, it’s almost impossible not to feel something when Paul Mescal is crying. As a fun bonus, the soundtrack is top notch, too.
The Queen’s Gambit
Limited Series | Based on The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis
Synopsis: Abandoned and entrusted to a Kentucky orphanage in the late 1950s, Beth Harmon discovers an astonishing talent for chess while developing an addiction to tranquilizers provided by the state as a sedative for the children. Haunted by her personal demons and fueled by a cocktail of narcotics and obsession, Beth transforms into an impressively skilled and glamorous outcast while determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess.
2020 was certainly the year of The Queen’s Gambit. It may be slow at first but once it really gets started, you’re just gripped. The cinematography is wonderfully done and I adored all of the period details from the cars to the fashion. Anya Taylor Joy is absolutely amazing in the lead role and I will never stop being impressed with hers and the rest of the cast’s ability to play all of the chess games from memory (the speed chess scenes are insane!). You don’t have to be a chess fan to get lost in this one.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
TV Series | Loosely Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Synopsis: After an au pair’s tragic death, a man hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with their chef, groundskeeper, and housekeeper. Little does the nanny know that the manor is haunted.
THoBM is quite different from Henry James’s novel but it uses The Turn of the Screw as a foundation for the story. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Haunting of Hill House so I was hoping that I’d enjoy this more. Unfortunately, no. It started out promising but I quickly grew bored with how insanely slow it was. By the end, I realised I didn’t really like the story of the lady in the lake and was frustrated by the way certain things were explained (or not explained). Honestly, the last episode was probably my favourite because it felt like an entirely different show but also because the acting by Victoria Pedretti and Amelia Eve was so good. I’m guessing I should give up on watching any further in this anthology.
After We Collided
Film | Based on After We Collided by Anna Todd
Synopsis: Tessa finds herself struggling with her complicated relationship with Hardin; she faces a dilemma that could change their lives forever.
Don’t ask me why I keep doing this to myself. I recognise the fact that this series is an absolute trainwreck. I really, really do. The plots are terrible and the relationship is as toxic as ever. It’s essentially just Hardin and Tessa alternating between fighting and having sex. Hardin does something stupid and Tessa forgives him. And still, I continue to watch. Then again, maybe we need the occasional bit of rot your brain garbage, and perhaps in 2020 more than ever. I can say though that Hero Fiennes Tiffin was slightly less of a wooden board acting wise than he was in the first one (but I guess that’s not really saying much, is it?).
Tiny Pretty Things
TV Series | Based on Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
Synopsis: After tragedy strikes Chicago’s most prestigious ballet school, where every dancer is both friend and foe who compete fiercely for coveted roles, it threatens to unravel close friendships and to expose a constellation of secrets that could bring down a world-renowned institution.
Admittedly, I’m only a couple of episodes into this series so try not to spoil me too much in the comments. I’ve heard that the adaptation has some big differences from the book here. It’s set in Chicago rather than New York, the characters are less cutthroat, it’s centered around a mystery which isn’t a big deal in the novel, there’s a lot more sex, and the ending is altered. For me, this feels like just another teen drama except with ballet. It has those Pretty Little Liars vibes. Nothing particularly new but will I probably still binge watch the rest of it? Um…Yes.
Film | Based on Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier
Synopsis: A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.
I really, really wish I’d read the book before watching this adaptation. I was going to hold off but Netflix kept bringing it up and next thing you know… As someone who didn’t know much about the story going in, I can say that while I found it intriguing there did feel like there was something missing, a hollowness of sorts, which kept the movie from landing the way it should have. I quite liked Lily James in the lead role but as much as I love Armie Hammer, I can’t help feeling like he wasn’t the right choice here. On the upside, visually the movie is gorgeous – the cliffs in Monte Carlo, Gothic shots of Manderly at night, Armie’s statement mustard suit, it’s a feast for the eyes.
TV Series | Based on The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn
Synopsis: Wealth, lust, and betrayal set in the backdrop of Regency era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family.
If you’ve heard that this series is basically Gossip Girl crossed with Pride & Prejudice, you’ve heard right. It’s far from a dramatic marvel but it’s a fun guilty pleasure watch for over the Christmas/New Year break. From what people have said, there are a few changes from the book series but it’s visually striking, sexy (beware if you’re planning on watching with family), and features a diverse cast. I should mention, however, that there has been some controversy over a particular sex scene in episode 6 so just be aware. Otherwise, if you enjoy a bit of romance, this would be a good pick. I’ll definitely be on the look out for season 2.
What were some of the best and worst book adaptations you watched this year? Which ones are you most looking forward to in 2021? Mine are Shadow and Bone, Conversations with Friends, A Discovery of Witches Season 2, The Witcher Season 2, and Daisy Jones & the Six!