GFT Blog: Our Favourite Adaptations


Patricia Highsmith specialised in tightly plotted thrillers exploring the fear, jealousy, guilt and violence bubbling under the surface of outwardly civilised characters. The artistry and intelligence of her work is widely considered to have transcended the thriller genre and rival that of mainstream literature. Her novels have made for many a compelling cinematic adaptation, Adapting Miss Highsmith showcases the very best of them. To celebrate this season, GFT Staff tell us about their favourite authors and book-to-film adaptations:

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It’s not very trendy or cool these days, but I am a massive fan of Merchant Ivory films, which include several adaptations of E. M. Forster novels - of which I am also a fan. Howard’s EndMaurice, and A Room With a View are some of the films I have watched over again through the years.   Who can forget the bathing scene in A Room With A View - a very naked Simon Callow (not to mention Julian Sands!) running around a pond, in the idyllic English countryside, before being chanced upon by the uptight Cecil, Lucy, and her mother? The Merchant Ivory partnership produced films that were almost instantly recognisable as ‘theirs’ – with the Merchant Ivory tag becoming a shorthand for films of these periods and themes. They had approached the E. M. Forster estate in regards to a film version of A Passage to India, but were knocked back.  This adaptation was made in 1984, directed by David Lean, and was followed byWhere Angels Feared to Tread in 1991, directed by Charles Sturridge. 

Rachel Fiddes
Glasgow Film Festival Manager

Charles Dickens had always wanted to be an actor. Even as an author, he performed dramatic readings of his books on stage to crowds of affected fans. In the same way the dynamic dialogue in his books lends itself well to screenplay, the three-dimensional world, life-assuming characters and vivid imagery offer themselves up to film. The wide expanse of genres - drama, comedy, tragedy, romance, action, adventure, crime, and mystery - have been adapted into movies, musicals, and animation over the last 100 years. Through film, Dickens’ voice is given new breath, and his classic works of literature given new life.

Ruth Latusek
GFT Volunteer

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A darkness surrounds much of James M. Cain’s work, and this is reflected in the often murky, always enthralling, adaptations of his hard-boiled fiction. Cain’s characters populate complex worlds of deception, sex, depravity, misunderstanding, and murder. Three big screen adaptations of his novels became signature roles for the actresses who starred in them – Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Joan Crawford as the titular Mildred Pierce, Lana Turner as Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice – and each portrayal is masterful, fitting perfectly into its narrative. Cain has influenced others, but his tangled, visceral creations reign supreme.

David Rush
GFT Volunteer

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I avoided reading Charles Dickens till David Lean’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist and Brian Desmond Hurst’s A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sim as Scrooge) lured me to read and adore Dickens. Dickens adapts extremely well to screen with his strong characterisation and riveting plots. I remain haunted by the abandoned bride Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), first encountering her when I was as young as Pip, in David Lean’s Great Expectations. Lean captured her as a luminous spectral figure hovering in a liminal light between life and death - like film itself. The screen perpetuates its fascination with Miss Havisham: Martita Hunt, Gillian Anderson, Helena Bonham Carter and Charlotte Rampling won’t be the last to play her.  

Liana Marletta
Development Executive

Monday night saw me and the 14 year old watching the latest Jason Bourne movie.  

"I was your age when I read the first Bourne Legacy book by Robert Ludlum."
Pause for moment of utter disbelief.
"No you weren't." "Yup. 1980."
Pause as he furiously wikied 'Jason Bourne books'.
"Must have been awful in those days to just read a book. No action."
"The action was all in my head, but yes, I'll admit it was mainly about the story and Robert Ludlum could write a good story. I'm not so sure about the adapters."
He screwed up his nose. "It doesn't matter who writes them as long as there's loads of action".
As the closing credits rolled, he whispered.  "Well?"
He answered for me in his best mum impersonation:
"Don't tell me: All action and no story"?
At last! I think I'm making inroads.

Uzma Mir-Young
Board Member

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Widely regarded as the father of hardboiled crime, Raymond Chandler has had many novels adapted into film and in fact wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, an adaptation of Highsmith’s debut novel. One of the most influential Hollywood directors (Howard Hawks), with perhaps the most iconic Hollywood Golden Era screen couple (Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) took on The Big Sleep (1946): a perfectly complex and quick-witted thriller, with private investigator Philip Marlowe unravelling a web of deceit, blackmail, love triangles and murder. “So you're a private detective. I didn't know they existed, except in books…”

Margaret Smith
Marketing & Press Co-ordinator

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Mr Cormac McCarthy’s prose works so well on the page as the imagery he conjures up evokes the most extreme atmosphere in the minds of his readership, drawing upon faith to tell apocalyptic stories of hope, family and justice against scorched and skewed visions of America. On the screen however, this can often lead to leaden imagery and thinly sketched characters when adapted too literally – look no further than 1995’s All the Pretty Horses or 2013’s As I Lay Dying for proof of this. Yet two films have gotten it right enough that it warrants mentioning here, in 2009 John Hillcoat provided a fittingly bleak and haunting adaptation of post-apocalypse drama The Road whilst two years previously the Coen brothers turned their masterful directorial vision toward No Country For Old Men. That film won the Academy Award for Best Feature Film (a rare occasion when the Oscars got it right) and might just be the greatest film of the decade in my eyes. An honourable mention should also go to Tommy Lee Jones’ HBO adaptation of McCarthy’s play The Sunshine Limited, a claustrophobic two-hander between him and Samuel L. Jackson, that runs like if Waiting for Godot was written by a theology professor having a hysterical nervous breakdown (in a good way).  

Sean Greenhorn
Programme Co-ordinator

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Patricia Highsmith presents a real challenge to filmmakers. Having supported herself for over a decade by writing comic book plots, she became a great draftswoman of narrative arcs. The problem for filmmakers, and American filmmakers in particular, is her amorality. It can become the subject of the film, as in Win Wender’s “The American Friend” or squeamishly explained away by identifiable motives like avarice, as in Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. The adaptation of her first novel, “Strangers on a Train” must have left Highsmith with had high expectations. Directed by Hitchcock with a screenplay by Raymond Chandler, the discomfiting atmosphere is beautifully drawn, just as ‘Purple Noon’ would manage a decade later. It’s hard to know how she would have responded to the recent rash of adaptations but we can certainly know this: Highsmith would have taken the money and, whether she liked the resulting films or not, she would have been flattered. Later in her career she struggled to find an American publisher and worried that her work would be forgotten. She can't be. She's too good.

Denise Mina Chair of the Board

Tell us about your favourite book-to-film adaptations in the comments to win a prize bundle of Patricia Highsmith novels: Deep Water, The Blunderer, Two Faces of January, Glass Cell and This Sweet Sickness courtesy of Little, Brown!


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