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The Best Film and TV Adaptations of the Classics

With the threat of self-isolation looming for many (or perhaps you’re searching for another way to procrastinate); we are all in need of some film and TV inspiration. And what could be better than snuggling up and watching an all time classic. While I highly recommend reading all these books, at uni we all know it’s difficult to find the time. So, lets jump straight in…

Little Women (2019)

My first and most recent choice is the 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Little Women follows the lives of the March sisters against the backdrop of the American Civil War. This film has everything you could ever want in a classical adaptation: beautiful costumes, heartbreaking relationships, the best scenery and of course, Timothée Chalamet. Let’s start with one of the main things that drew me to this film and the book: the relationship between the four sisters. It’s equally heartbreaking and heartwarming, and extremely relatable. But that’s the amazing thing about all the relationships and the characters, you can find some part of yourself in all of them. One of these characters is Amy March, who previously had a bad reputation as a spoilt little girl. However, taking on a feminist approach, this adaptation portrays Amy as a woman who is very aware of the constraints placed on her but still attempts to find her own place in the world and remains very true to the book, in comparison with other adaptations.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Next on my list is the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFayden. This film was my lockdown saviour! I must have watched it about 5 times. There’s just so much to love about this film. Not only is the story a timeless romance, but this version gives the characters a new lease of life. The main selling point in most versions of Pride and Prejudice is the relationship between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. This film is no exception! Matthew MacFayden presents such a vulnerable Darcy, which contrasts with other portrayals, such as Colin Firth in the BBC TV adaptation (which is also worth a watch) and once you’ve watched it you’ll never forgot the scene with the hand clasp. Literal chills! I blame this film for my high romantic expectations.

Emma (2019)

The 2019 version of Emma (another classic by Jane Austen) is another one to add to your list. This entire film just radiates happiness and summer days, through the bright pastel colour palette. The whole film feels very modern and fresh, from the music to the costumes. The direction of Autumn de Wilde creates a playful take on the novel, fitting with the original idea that Emma is a comedy. Much like Pride and Prejudice, the main attraction of this film is the relationship between the two main characters: Emma and Mr Knightley. The ‘will they, won’t they’ keeps you on the edge of your seat, crying in frustration and sometimes even laughing. If you already love Pride and Prejudice, Emma (in my opinion) is the next best Austen to sink your teeth into. It’s also a great light-hearted option if you want a bit of escapism; after all it has Miranda Hart in.

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Now onto an adaptation that I’ve not read the book for: Far from the Madding Crowd. The book, written by Thomas Hardy, follows the trials and tribulations of Bathsheba Everdene, from becoming a female landowner and farmer to fulfilling the convention of becoming a wife. As a history student, I love the social commentary on Victorian women and their roles in society. However, don’t worry if you’re not bothered by that side of things, this film has much more to offer. The first time I watched this film was with my mum about 4 years ago and no film has given me such an emotional hole since. You can really feel the heartache of so many of the characters. The whole romantic aesthetic of the film makes me want to move to the countryside and become a farmer, despite how the film does not always show the sunny side of farming (and the fact that I would make a terrible farmer). The casting, in my opinion, is perfect, with Carey Mulligan taking on the lead role (who also happens to play a Bennett sister in Pride and Prejudice). They manage to capture the original intentions of Hardy, while making an amazingly enjoyable film.

I hope this small selection of films and TV programmes gives you some inspiration for the coming weeks and months. I acknowledge that this is a very small selection, but I had to be careful otherwise I would’ve gone on forever. However, here are some other adaptations to try:

  • Jane Eyre (2011)
  • Les Miserables (2018 TV series)
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)
  • Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  • The Great Gatsby (2013)
  • Vanity Fair (2018 TV series)
  • War and Peace (2016 TV series)

All those adaptations are definitely worth a watch! And there are many more out there for you to discover. I can almost guarantee that if there’s a classic book you love, there’ll be a film or TV series for you to binge.

Happy watching!

Maisie Wood

Bristol '22

Hi! I’m Maisie and I’m a second year history student!
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