Monday, 4 February 2008

Television and novels

The relationship between television and novels is often complicated. A screenplay is so different from a novel that it’s no wonder that authors are sometimes frustrated by the way their work translates to the small screen. It’s said that Rodney Wingfield, creator of Jack Frost, never watched the highly successful tv series based on his character because he was so disgruntled by the pilot. Presumably the royalties must have sugared the pill, but I know several authors who were utterly dismayed by the changes made to their creations, which failed to result in high viewing figures.

There’s been a lot of debate recently about Marple and the cavalier treatment of the original Christie novels by the screenwriters. I can understand why changes may be made for a fresh generation of viewers, but sometimes they seem to be changes for the worse. I liked one or two of the early episodes of Marple, but thought the new version of The Sittaford Mystery, an enjoyable book, was so ludicrous that it verged on the embarrassing.

I was fascinated to learn that Christine Falls, John Banville’s first, and critically acclaimed, venture into crime fiction as Benjamin Black, started out with a tv screenplay. It was meant to be a co-production between Irish and Australian television, but it fell through. He decided to turn it into a novel, but moved the Australian scenes to the USA.

Something different happened when Cath Staincliffe wrote a novel called Cry Me a River. The novel did not sell, but she turned it into a screenplay, which became the highly successful Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin. Cath then re-wrote the novel under the Blue Murder title. And since then, she’s continued to write both books and screenplays featuring the character played by Quentin.

8 comments:

Petrona said...

I rarely watch TV, but I did see a couple of episodes of Miss Marple as played by Joan Hickson, and could never imagine anyone else playing her as well. (Margaret Rutherford was a darling in the role but too flustery and eccentric.)
I did read about the outrage over the G McEwan versions, but have not seen any. However, I have in the past seen some truly appalling US versions of Christie -- surely the G McE versions can't be as bad as those?

Martin Edwards said...

Bad in a different way! I guess you're thinking of the Angela Lansbury versions? Well, Geraldine McEwan is, I think, a terrific actor, and at times in the new series she is excellent. But (some of, not all) the scripts let her down. I agree with you about Joan Hickson - marvellous. Margaret Rutherford wasn't Miss Marple, but she did introduce me to Christie at the tender age of nine, so I owe her thanks...

crimeficreader said...

Oh dear! I disagree with you both. Perhaps it's because Margaret Rutherford was the first screen incarnation of Miss Marple that I ever saw? For me, she is and will always remain, Miss Marple. Both Hickson and McEwan were just too slender.

Following Fallen Angel, Andrew Taylor's Roth trilogy on screen, I'd love it if someone/some company would televise his Lydmouth series. Like Maxine, I rarely watch TV, but I'm watching Kingdom at the moment as Dominic Mafham stars alongside Stephen Fry. In my mind, Dominic Mafham would make a splendid Richard Thornhill, Lydmouth's series protag.

But I can only dream...

Martin Edwards said...

I'm someone else who doesn't get to see much tv, and unfortunately I missed the tv version of the Roth books, but I thought the books, especially the first, quite splendid.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if Thornhill made it to the small screen one of these days. Again, a great series.

Lydia said...

And now the latest characters also have to play on the smaller screen --> cell phones and computers. Another translation challenge for writers.

Martin Edwards said...

Absolutely, Lydia. I can go along with updating if it's done really well. But I think this requires the writer to have respect for the source material and characters. The trouble with the McEwan version of 'The Sittaford Mystery' was not that the original book was not a Marple story, but rather that it was all so over the top.

brooksideelaine said...

The Sittaford Mystery had nothing to do with the book and it was not a Miss marple story in the first place. It was also so badly acted I could not watch it all. I am a great admirer of GM (remember her well as Mrs Proudie in Barchester Chronicles) but she was somehow too knowing in this series. I wonder who the next one will be?

Re the Lydford series - these are just so filmic. As an admirer of the wonderfully gorgeous Richard Armitage, I can see him in this, fits the description of our hero perfectly.

Have just ordered your third lake district book martin as I so enjoyed the other two. Have posted about them so hope you have noticed!

Martin Edwards said...

Elaine, I'm glad someone else shares my view about the acting in Sittaford. Good actors, having a collective off day, I think.

Lydmouth - what is really fascinating to me is the way Andrew Taylor has developed the series since he had a break from it for a few years. Good as the early books were, I think the later ones are even better. I talked to him about this, and his approach (i.e. treating the new novels as a fresh generation of books, rather than just more of the same) influenced the way I tackled the return after a long absence of Harry Devlin, in the forthcoming 'Waterloo Sunset'.