Five Books That Should Be Movies

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Apparently, there’s yet another film version of Little Women in the works — Flavorwire reports that Sony Pictures has a script ordered, and before that The CW Channel (yes, the place that brought us Reign) was rumored to have a “gritty” and “dystopic” Little Women TV series planned. Just no. Please. Stop. As Frock Flicks’ resident English Lit scholar, my eyes hurt from rolling so hard here.

Yes, we all love the classics of literature — there are perfectly good reasons why they are classics. The stories are timeless and can be told and retold in a billion beautiful ways. But, as with Hollywood’s fixation on certain historical figures, would it kill anyone to make a historical costume movie or TV series by a different author or about a different book? We all love  Jane Austenthe Bronte SistersCharles Dickens, and Shakespeare, but surely we could see filmed adaptions of other equally classic but rarely filmed works? For that matter, Louisa May Alcott wrote a ton of stuff besides Little Women — why not throw her a bone?

I’m going to pull a few things from my shelves and dig around for other authors I recall from my grad school days so we can explore more possibilities for historical costume movies and TV shows. Because this is Frock Flicks, I’ve focused on women writers and strong female-centered stories (we can all agree this is a vastly underserved market). Where possible, I’ve added links to the books’ original texts on Project Gutenberg in the title. Add your own suggestions in the comments!

 

 

The Rover by Aphra Behn (1677)

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely, 1670

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely, 1670

This Restoration-era play is by one of the very first women known to have earned her living by her pen (she also worked as a spy for Charles II — her own life would make a pretty damn good movie!). The Rover has been in regular rotation since its premiere, up to a successful 2016 performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The setting is Naples at Carnivale, and the main characters are three young women (two sisters and their cousin) and three young men (friends) and their romantic escapades, including carnivale disguises/cross-dressing and other mayhem. It’s quite a romp and would make for a fun film adaption.

 

 

Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World by Fanny Burney (1778)

Fanny Burney by Edward Francisco Burney, 1784

Fanny Burney by Edward Francisco Burney, 1784

Essentially the same story as Doctor Thorne — a young lady, Evelina, unknowing about a sordid aspect to her birth, is the ward a kindly old man, in this case a Reverend Villars, who has the task of getting her married off respectably. Only this time, the settings are London and Paris in the 1770s, and the ups and downs are even more dramatic. Can Julian Fellowes please get on this script and Amazon Studios fund the production?

 

Mary: A Fiction by Mary Wollstonecraft (1787)

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797

Best known for her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Wollstonecraft also wrote one novel with, surprise!, a hugely feminist bent. This plot would be super-timely these days, yet subversive when hidden in delicate 1790s costume. The story tells of Mary’s unhappy home life and even more unhappy marriage, but how she escapes both through deep, meaningful relationships with a woman and a man. Obviously, this can be sexed up a touch, if needed to sell, and I don’t think it would hurt the overall impact.

 

Indiana by George Sand (1832)

George Sand by Charles Louis Gratia, 1835

George Sand by Charles Louis Gratia, 1835

The works of George Sand (aka Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin) haven’t gotten much love from filmmakers, even in her native France. I can find a handful of TV movie adaptions of her novels scattered throughout the 1970s to 1990s, which is weak considering she wrote over 40 novels and nearly a dozen plays. I’m nominating Indiana because it may be Sand’s most popular and accessible work, and it’s definitely camera-friendly (despite being filmed just once in 1966, feh!). The heroine is trapped in a marriage of convenience, and the plot deals with adultery and colonialism, making it highly relevant today.

 

Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende (1998)

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende

Yeah, this is a lot more modern, but Allende is an ah-may-zing writer, and I feel like Hollywood has ignored her best works and only adapted a few, kind of average titles. This one is a gripping story set in 1840s Chile and California, as a young woman follows the Gold Rush, at least partly to find her lover and partly to find herself. Sometimes she’s disguised as a man, and often she’s accompanied by a Chinese doctor friend. The story is continued in the book Portrait in Sepia (2001). Rich in detail and pathos, this could be a highly engaging film or miniseries and would be ideal for showing how frock flicks can be relevant to wider, more diverse audiences.

 

 

What books would you like to see made into historical costume movies or TV shows?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

46 Responses

  1. Sarah Lorraine

    Oh, man, Indiana is an awesome novel. The heroine is Creole, so not your standard white girl portaganist, and it’s all meloncholy longing and unrequited love… but has a happy ending so yay!

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola

    Any of the yet filmed Mrs Gaskell novels comes to my mind. She wrote Wives and Daughters, North and South, Cranford.

    Reply
    • Molly Pitzer Smith

      Hi! All three of those have already been made for British television. Not sure if you’ve not seen them (get ready, they’re awesome!) or just meant they haven’t been put on the big screen (which I definitely think they should!) :)

      Reply
        • Susan Pola

          I was meaning the other Mrs Gaskell novels. Just listed those that had been filmed.

          Reply
            • Susan Pola

              Mary Barton and Ruth have a huge social commentary on the poor, strong female characters and are mentioned in the Elizabeth Gaskell bio on the special features on the Wives and Daughters DVD. Sylvia’s Lover is another novel.

              Reply
              • janette

                there was supposed to be an adaptation of Mary Barton in the works but haven’t heard anything about it for some time so assume it got dropped.
                A week devoted to Wives and Daughters!!! I can’t wait.

                Reply
  3. MellD

    A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, maybe a bit more on the modern side, but just a gorgeous book. I think the material would require a mini-series.

    Reply
      • Saraquill

        Perhaps some historical sci-fi then? It’s a short story rather than a novel, but I think Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Sur” would make an awesome movie or miniseries. It’s about an expedition of South American women in the 19th century (I think, it’s been a while) who are secretly the first people to reach the South Pole.

        Reply
  4. Katie

    I endorse all of the above suggestions. Especially ‘A Suitable Boy’ which would make a wonderful miniseries. Its a little more modern, but its still set in the early 1950’s, so its historic. I *need* to see Meenakshi dancing the tango in a sari.

    On the subject of Alcott, if they want ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’, instead of messing around with Little Women, why not adapt some of Alcott’s lesser known Gothic works? If you want to know what Jo was writing in her attic….well, this is it. Curses, love triangles, attempted suicide, drug use, these works have it all.

    Reply
  5. Charity

    I think Hollywood doesn’t like taking chances, so they remake things instead of being original or going for a lesser known literary author. It’s really freaking annoying — it was nice when the BBC actually went into original programming with “Call the Midwife.” How many versions of Pride & Prejudice do we need? Or Jane Eyre? Of course, they took a chance on “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” and no one watched it, though I thought it was so great I went on and read the mammoth book they adapted it from.

    I’ll have to think about what books would translate well; there’s actually a few Dickens novels they’ve never done, if they MUST do a well-known author. I’d like to see a version of “Jane of Lantern Hill” that is actually like the book, which I loved as a child.

    Reply
  6. MR Reagan

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder books–a faithful adaptation of the books, not like the shlocky 70’sTV show. I can’t figure out why Masterpiece hasn’t done that already. Though maybe (given Mercy Street) it’s just as well that they have not…

    Reply
    • Melanie

      I agree. I had a huge crush on Michael Landon and so gave a pass on the schlockiness. But a faithful adaptation would be great to see. No blood poisoning, no Albert, no tragic fire or exploding homes.

      If they want drama, there’s the winter the buffalo got frozen to the ground by their breath because it was so cold. The scarlet fever and Mary going blind. The grasshopper plague. Laura going away to teach and the mother of her “host family” standing by Laura’s bed with a butcher knife. Plenty of drama.

      Reply
  7. Susan Pola

    I am not a fan of the Little House series, but what about Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdattir. Not only set in the Middle Ages, it won a Nobel Prize.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      The Lyman Chronicles were a pleasure to read. Well researched and written. I too would enjoy watching it. Perhaps with the success of Outlander, it might be made.

      Reply
  8. Susan Pola

    This is in reply to Janette’s comment about the on hold adaptation of Mary Barton. I’m posting it here as the area involved in the post is a BIG open blank area. Thanks I didn’t know that.

    Hopefully, it will be given the green light soon.

    Reply
  9. NPHooks

    Fall on Your Knees desperately needs the HBO miniseries treatment (I’m thinking of the excellent job they did with Mildred Pierce and keeping it loyal to the book). It’s set in the 1880s through the 1960s (with most of the action in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s) and there’s so many moments of fashion written directly into the story, like daughter Kathleen’s amazing green 1918 dress, daughter Frances’s flapper costumes, and pianist Rose dressing in her father’s sharp pinstripe suit to pass as a man when stepping out.

    Reply
    • Madeleine

      There is an AMAZING recent miniseries of Bkeak House!! (Though I’ve just realised it was 2005 eek). Anna Maxwell Martin, Gillian Anderson, Cary Mulligan, Charles Dance etc. It’s so beautifully done, and I did like the frocks too!

      Reply
      • MoHub

        There was an earlier Bleak House, with Diana Rigg. Unfortunately, it cut the entire Jellyby family, but Denholm Elliott was a terrific John Jarndyce.

        Reply
  10. aquitainequeen

    I’m amazed that there’s practically NOTHING based on Georgette Heyer’s novels. A lot of them are set in the Regency period, so there’s plenty of opportunities to raid the BBC wardrobe department.

    Also, I’ve seen The Rover at the RSC; I’d be one of the happiest girls in the world if they actually recorded it, like they’ve done for some of their other performances!

    Reply
  11. Emily

    though I am firmly of the mind that her politics should be viewed only as an extreme reaction to communism, Ayn Rand’s stuff could pretty easily translate to sexy modern fare- specifically We the Living, but the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged too (with more of a focus on story than on political proselytizing).

    Staying on the subject of lady-authors, Daphne du Maurier’s stuff could be pretty sexy (though I pity the director to follow Hitchcock on Rebecca)- the book of short stories called “the doll” has some great premises, especially the title story- could tie into modern ideas about AI..

    non-lady-specific, I’d love to see -good- versions of A Tale of two Cities, the House of Seven Gables, or the Rise of Silas Lapham.

    .. if any of those already exist, i am unaware of them and would love to be alerted!

    Reply
    • janette

      The BBC have done two (at least) versions of Rebecca the first in the 70s/80s starring Joanna David and Jeremy Brett and the more recent, late 1990s starring Joanna’s daughter, Emilia Fox and Charles Dance which I highly recommend.

      Reply
  12. Susan Pola

    I loved the BBC’s adaptation of Daniel Deronda & Middlemarsh, but George Eliot has another great book, Romola, which would be a good choice. Set in Renaissance Florence the main character Romola is the sister of a Medici sponsored cleric.

    Reply
  13. caeciliadance

    Fanny Burney’s ‘Cecilia’ would make an excellent mini-series; it might have to be abridged, but the story is full of humour, frustration, danger and romance. Excellent portrait of the darker side to 1770s high society.

    Reply
  14. theshebear

    Glorious amounts of yes to any Isabel Allende adaptation!!! As far as I’ve heard, Chilean tv has done an adaptation of “Inés del alma mía” (sorry, no idea how it translates to English), and it’s got good reviews. Haven’t had the chance to watch it yet but hopefully I will soon!

    Reply
  15. Susanna Y.

    I’ve always thought Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl” would make a good movie. I love that Polly isn’t just some damsel in distress waiting for a guy to save her, but is an independent, self sufficient woman making a place for herself despite the odds against her. And while she does get married in the end, it’s not because she “needs” a man to take care of her (if I recall correctly, she rejected the proposal of a “most eligible bachelor”), but because the boy she loves finally grew into a man she could respect, who respects her too.

    Reply
  16. ladylavinia1932

    How about “Voodoo Dreams” by Jewell Parker Rhodes. It’s a novel about the famous Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, during the early 1820s. Or “Legacy” by Susan Kay, a novel about Queen Elizabeth I. I sitll long for someone to do a television adaptation of some of Susan Howatch’s novels – especially “The Wheel of Fortune” and “Cashelmara”. I understand an adaptation of “Penmarric” was done back in 1979, but the BBC did a crappy job of it. Or perhaps novels like M.M. Kaye’s “Shadow of the Moon” or Valerie Fitzgerald’s “Zemindar”. But it’s possible that a movie or television adaptation of a story set during the Sepoy Rebellion might be a bit controversial.

    Reply
  17. Susan Pola

    What about a remake of Desiree? Brando and Jean Simmons were in the original, along with Merle Oberon.
    There’s a great historical novel about Queen Lakshmibai of Jhansi by Michelle Moran.

    Reply
  18. Rebecca Maiten

    I would love to see LA Meyer’s Bloody Jack Adventure series made into a BBC-style TV series. It’s about an fantastic female protagonist in the early 1800s, who goes off on all sorts of adventures (piracy, tangles with slavers, battling in the Napoleonic war, spying for the British, etc). There’s 13 books total, and every single one is excellent, and would translate wonderfully to film.

    Reply
  19. Lynn253

    Remember Ellis Peters of Brother Cadfael fame? Ellis Peter’s real name is Edith Pargeter and she wrote a trilogy called The Heaven Tree Trilogy, fiction set in medieval times in Britain. It’s a wonderful love triangle story. It reminds me of Pillars of the Earth but I think it’s much better. I’d like to see all 3 books made into a TV series.

    Reply
  20. Teresa N

    I love Georgette Heyer. My favorite is “The Grand Sophy”. My dream is to write it into a screenplay (I am so not qualitied to do that!)
    The other suggestion I have is “No Name” by Wilkie Collins. Enough with “The Woman in White”. Or “Armadale”, which is also great. Actually, almost anything by Wilkie Collins!

    Reply

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