There used to be a time when books were only ever adapted into films. Now, they’re taking over the small screen too. Here are some of the best book adaptations currently on TV.
It’s coming to an end, sadly, but Hannibal is certainly the strangest book adaptation on television. It might be a little bit trippier than Thomas Harris’s novels about Hannibal — especially Red Dragon, which it’s more or less based on — but it nails the queasy fascination with gruesome and macabre events than the books are famous for. Mads Mikkelsen is also one of the most charismatic villains ever to appear on TV. He’s so charismatic, that he sometimes feels more like an antihero than a villain.
The Leftovers is HBO’s big Rapture event — but one in which the Rapture has already happened. Like Tom Perrotta’s book, it focuses on the people left behind, particularly the Garvey family. The first season was a pretty close adaptation of the book, but it’s anyone’s guess what’ll happen next, since the first season concluded at the end of the book.
The biggest show on TV is based on some pretty big books. Corralling them into a film — or even a series of films — would have been impossible, and Game of Thrones makes full use of its run time to bring (most of) George R. R. Martin’s series to life. Almost single-handedly responsible for the current rise in fantasy television (and book-to-TV adaptations in general), Game of Thrones isn’t just a TV show — it’s a phenomenon.
Speaking of fantasy…. You didn’t think we’d forget Outlander, did you? The show has the same mix of historical drama and romance as Diana Gabaldon’s novels, but the series has something the books don’t: Sam Heughan in a kilt. Need we say more?
The latest hot British costume drama is Poldark, staring former dwarf Aiden Turner. It’s based on a series of books by Winston Graham about the tangled love lives of Ross Poldark and the two women in his life — his former fiancé Elizabeth and his wife Demelza. If the show remains true to the novels things could get very dark. We’d prefer him to stick to his shirtless gardening, please.
Orange is the New Black is only loosely based on Piper Kerman’s book, but it’s a good example of a television series that expands a factual book into new, entirely fictional territory. In fact, you could argue that the weakest parts of Orange is the New Black are the parts that are based on Kerman’s life. We’re far more interested in the lives of Crazy Eyes, Taystee, Red, and company. But Kerman’s revelations on the nature of the prison system are still at the heart of the show.
House of Cards is based on an acclaimed British television show from 1990, which itself is based on a 1989 book of the same name. The transition from the UK to the US accounts for a number of differences between the book and the film, and even the British series diverted from the book. Still, this is an example of a book being used as a jumping-off point for a show.
The show is very different from Kass Morgan’s trilogy. While the books focus on slow character reveals, the show is much more action-packed, and many characters are either missing from the show or created purely for the show. That said, the TV show is generally considered to be an improvement on the books, so you’re in for a treat.
Wolf Hall will return for a second season as soon as Hilary Mantel writes the final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The show diverted from the books only to keep the running time down, and in terms of tone, it’s one of the closest adaptations we’ve seen on TV in a while. Mark Rylance’s intelligent, cunning, and sympathetic Cromwell felt like he’d stepped right out of the pages of Mantel’s books.
This Amazon Prime show boasts a double pedigree — it’s based on a Philip K. Dick story, and it’s produced by Ridley Scott. It was the break-out star of Amazon Prime’s pilot season, and no one was surprised when it was picked up for a full series. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the show, but Dick’s stories generally make great adaptation materials.
What other book adaptations are you currently enjoying on TV? Tell us about them in the comments.