Lolita (1962 and 1997)
A novel notoriously difficult to adapt, largely due to its subject matter and its subsequent issues of censorship. Both adaptations of Nabokov’s novel, despite their flaws, are still a joy to watch. Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation wonderfully captures the humour so apparent in Nabokov’s work, whilst Adrian Lyne’s later 1997 adaptation focuses on the romanticised ideal Humbert Humbert has created for himself. Best watched together in order to truly get a sense of the text itself, Kubrick and Lyne’s efforts create two great, albeit imperfect adaptations.
The Birds (1963)
Taking the short Daphne Du Maurier story, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds retains the sense of horror Du Maurier’s work so wonderfully created, despite keeping little of Du Maurier’s original text. Arguably one of the finest examples of an adaptation: Hitchcock’s film feels no need to slavishly maintain the plot of the original text, instead taking the text’s central conceit, using this to create and influence the basis of the film.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia Coppola’s dreamy, almost inert style of direction perfectly matched the tone of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel. The novel, with its use of first-person-plural narration, certainly proves formidable when it comes to adaptation. Coppola, in writing the screenplay, took much of Eugenides’ novel word-for-word, using the narration that forms the novel and interspersing it throughout the film in the form of voice-over. This voice-over never impinges on the narrative of the film, and is crucial to the film itself; the viewer’s opinion of the Lisbon girls is entirely informed by the narration in the text and the voice-over in the film.
Romeo and Juliet (1996)
Shakespeare purists may recoil at Baz Lurhman’s free and loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but I am of the opinion that Lurhman’s effort resulted in one of the finest ever film adaptations of a Shakespeare play. Lurhman retains the immediacy and passion so prevalent in the original text, while Zeffirelli’s effort in contrast feels stilted and stultified, containing none of the urgency that dominates Lurhman’s film. More importantly, Lurhman’s adaptation taught a younger generation that those texts that had been previously misconceived as dull and staid could be exciting and interesting.
Wuthering Heights (2009)
Firstly, this is by no means a perfect adaptation: there has never been a perfect adaptation of Wuthering Heights despite the many attempts. What the 2009 adaptation did which no other adaptation has truly sought to portray, was to depict the sheer violent and cruel nature of both Cathy and Heathcliff. Both are entirely wretched and callous literary inventions, caring only for themselves and one another. Heathcliff is violent, and his relationship with Cathy is shown as inherently sexual. Gone is the mannered love-affair of the 1939 Laurence Olivier adaptation, which arguably holds little resemblance to Brontë’s novel. Surely, the 2009 effort is far more successfully in retaining the true spirit of the novel than any prior efforts.