Cinema’s novel approach to adapting British tearjerker
THE film industry loves to suckerfish on the back of a bestseller, feeding off the ready-made audience that comes with a successful book.
A "based on the novel'' movie virtually guarantees bums on cinema seats, even if a feature-length film must abridge and alter a much-loved story.
It is rare that a film is pronounced faithful to the novel, however. But the whispers coming out of preview screenings of Me Before You suggest that the adaptation of Jojo Moyes' eight million-selling novel of the same name is as near as dammit.
The novel is a textbook tearjerker filled with the kind of soppy meeting of souls and lovelorn impossibility that could have been written by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk To Remember) but with a gratifying dose of British humour.
It is a holiday read; funny and sad and gripping. The film, which stars Game of Thrones' very own Mother of Dragons, Emilia Clarke, alongside The Hunger Games' Sam Claflin, does capture the book and (thanks to a script by Moyes) is structurally and in its dialogue so close to its written counterpart, bar two storyline omissions. As far as modern adaptations go, it gets a lot of things right.
We've recently had a slew of movie versions of bestsellers that have got it wrong: think the incredibly unsexy Fifty Shades of Grey, a production (as rumour had it) marred by creative differences between author E.L. James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who subsequently opted out of directing the other films in the franchise.
One of the biggest clangers of recent times was the film adaptation of Martin Amis's seminal work London Fields, which despite starring Cara Delevingne, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard was a critical and box office flop - proving it isn't just romance fiction that loses all its chemistry on the silver screen.
You can count virtually on the fingers of one hand the films that haven't been accused of omitting vital bits of the well-known books they're based on. Gone Girl? Gillian Flynn's blockbusting novel, with its complicated dual narrators, simply couldn't keep its suspense in the same way cinematically.
The "based on the novel'' films believed to have largely retained the spirit of the source material are various (and likely to divide readers) but among them are Bridget Jones' Diary, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Fight Club, The Fault in Our Stars and Never Let Me Go.
Me Before You is arguably an easy win as it was written so cinematically that the filmmakers had simply to follow Moyes' signposts. The tale centres on Louisa Clark (Clarke), a kooky, charismatic 26-year-old living in a picturesque but opportunity-devoid English town who lands a job as caregiver to wealthy 30-something Will Traynor (Claflin), a quadriplegic paralysed in a motorbike accident.
In a weird cross between Intouchables and Pretty Woman the pair fall in love.
A major criticism levelled at the book when it came out was that it was "ablist'' and in some way advocated the idea that people with disabilities should kill themselves. So it follows that the film adaptation has been marred by protests from disability rights campaigners at the premiere, with much talk of it on social media under the hashtag #MeBeforeEuthanasia.
Whether or not the furore will mar Me Before You's performance at the box office or not remains to be seen. But after the serious backlash to the novel, director Thea Sharrock and Moyes were brave not to use the film adaptation as a means of providing the characters with a happily ever after.
Me Before You opens nationally on Thursday.
Stars: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Vanessa Kirby, Brendan Coyle.
Director: Thea Sharrock
Reviewer's last word: Young stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, both coming from huge franchises, have great chemistry but the overall story is a little clumsy.
Star profile: Emilia Clarke
Quirky fact: At the age of three she went to see Show Boat with her mother, a musical on which her father worked behind the scenes as a sound engineer, and she wanted to become an actress ever since.
Best known for: Game of Thrones, Terminator Genysis, Dom Hemingway.
If you like this movie you'll like these: Love, Rosie, Love and Friendship, Call the Midwife.
Quote: "I told my parents I wanted to be an actor and they were getting ready for a life of unemployment so they're just happy I'm in work."