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December 27, 2017

The Best Book-To-Silver-Screen Adaptations Of 2017

Text by Ranjabati Das and Tina Dastur

Over the years, Hollywood has fulfilled the dreams of many book lovers, gifting us gems from Cool Hand Luke (1967) to The Godfather, parts one to three — films that make you want to read the books all over again, despite any embellishment, deletion or licentia poetica. Our pick of a few in 2017….

My Cousin Rachel

Synopsis: Written by Daphne du Maurier, the queen of intrigue, it revolves around Philip Ashley, who inherits a Cornish estate when his guardian suddenly and mysteriously passes away while abroad with his new wife, their cousin Rachel. Ashley is convinced that the enigmatic Rachel has a part to play in what he construes as murder. But when the inscrutable titular character comes into the picture, facts and fiction get more entangled than ever as he finds himself falling for her deadly charms.

Starring: Rachel Weisz as her twisty, dark namesake, and Sam Claflin as Ashley (you will remember him as Finnick Odair from the Hunger Games series) in a role that won Richard Burton heaps of praise in the 1952 rendition.

Watch out for Weisz becoming cousin Rachel. The powerful actor channels the ambiguous character in a way that will make you want to pick up Du Maurier’s 1951 bestseller. ‘The director didn’t want me to tell him (whether Rachel was guilty or innocent) so I kept it a secret. There was a sort of mystery involved in how we made the film as well. What fascinated me are the reactions of people who’ve watched it; some are sure she’s guilty, others think she’s innocent and each side argues passionately…There are archetypes in storytelling and maybe this film is playing with the archetype of the femme fatale…I think what the director does is that he plays with the archetype so you question your own preconceptions,’ says Weisz about the character and director Roger Michell, whose repertoire includes the likes of Notting Hill (1999).

Genre: Thriller

Trivia: Du Maurier’s books have long been fodder for films — including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and The Birds, all adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘master of suspense’. Hitchcock was well-acquainted with Du Maurier’s father Sir Gerald du Maurier, a famous actor-manager. Her grandfather was author and Punch cartoonist George du Maurier.

Wonder

Synopsis: Based on the New York Times bestseller by R. J. Palacio, Wonder is the story of the trials and tribulations of young Auggie Pullman, a fifth-grader with facial deformation, as he takes on a ‘normal’ school for the first time.

Starring: Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson star as little August’s parents. While it’s always nice to have Roberts back, it’s Jacob Tremblay (remember Room, 2015?) as Auggie who steals the show this time.

Watch out for the wonderful Tremblay. It’s also interesting how the story unfolds in forms of chapters narrated from various POVs. The nervous parents, the sibling, the class bully…none of this is new but it’s all dealt with a freshness that is endearing. Keep a box of Kleenex handy.

Genre: Drama, dramedy

Trivia: Director Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the coming-of-age Perks Of Being a Wallflower (2012), clearly has a thing for the underdog. Both these films deal with themes of identity and offer a rich slice of life that he presents with a whole lot of heart.

Murder On The Orient Express

Synopsis: In this Agatha Christie classic starring Hercule Poirot, a murder is committed on the famous Orient Express. The snowed-up train provides the ideal ‘closed’ set-up for a detective to, well, detect, as well as the author to create a mix of characters from various parts of the world. The characters are said to have been influenced by co-passengers Christie had been stranded with on the real Orient Express.

Starring: The well-loved 1974 version had the passengers/suspects portrayed by an all-star cast, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (who, btw, picked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for her role as Greta, the missionary/nurse), Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Perkins. The 2017 version stars director  Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, with Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer in supporting roles. But I am most loyal to the 2010 episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, where the master detective is played by the masterful David Suchet (and where Toby Jones — who shot to fame as the villain Culverton Smith in Sherlock season four — played Rachett, the baddie).

Genre: Crime thriller, suspense, mystery

Trivia The character Greta Ohlsson becomes the Hispanic Pilar Estravados (portrayed by Cruz), a character that appears in a different Poirot novel. Among the passengers in the original story, a pair is combined. Colonel Arbuthnot and Doctor Constantine become Doctor Arbuthnot, eliminating one character from the train. Branagh’s directorial ventures include a motley of Shakespearean adaptations and Thor (2011), while his acting gigs range from Dunkirk (2017) to the Harry Potter films.

Call Me By Your Name

Synopsis: In the summer of 1983, in a quaint town in northern Italy, an unlikely romance is sparked between 17-year-old Elio Perlman (played by Timothée Chalamet) and the older 24-year-old Oliver (played by Armie Hammer). Oliver, an American doctoral student arrives at Elio’s parents’ summer villa for the annually-offered internship by the latter’s father, who is a respected professor of Greco-Roman culture. Amidst the languid backdrop of a lazy neighbourhood punctuated with sunny skies, warm breezes, blossoming orchards and tranquil pools, Elio, a gangly teenager, prone to bouts of shyness and awkwardness (who incidentally has a girlfriend – well, sort of), and Oliver, a swaggering adult, navigate the tricky business of coming to terms with their sexuality and resisting and fighting the urge to fall in love with each other to finally giving in and falling in love. Call Me By Your Name is rendered doubly beautiful by Perlman’s parents, played by actors Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar, who unlike other parents, allow their son to explore his sexuality and delve deep into the depths of his emotions, with his father delivering a progressive, empathetic monologue to his son at the movie’s end – “Right now, there’s sorrow and pain. Don’t kill it.” What really makes Call Me By Your Name a movie that shines, though, is its likeness to the novel it’s adapted from (i.e. André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, 2007) and the manner in which director Luca Guadagnino has dealt with manoeuvring the relationship (not once does it come across as exploitative or simply about sex) and the conflicting thoughts, feelings and raw, unfiltered emotions that come with knowing that love (of any kind), often, can be finite.

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

Watch out for the sweeping, stunning landscapes; effortless acting; and genuine portrayal of gay love.

Genre: Romantic drama, coming of age

Trivia: On the night it premiered, Call Me By Your Name received a 10-minute standing ovation – the longest ever at the New York Film Festival!

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Synopsis: There are plenty of inspirational stories that have emerged from World War II to try to counterbalance the innumerable horrific ones, and director Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife is one such example. In Warsaw, at the height of the Second World War, Hitler is at his ruthless best – not only is he sending thousands of Jews to their deaths but he is also bombing zoos and liquidating them for the war – and couple Antonina and Jan Żabiński’s (played by Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh respectively) majestic zoo is a target. The film not only shows us the depths of Antonina’s adoration for her animals – there are countless endearing scenes that depict her as a sort of animal whisperer in many ways – but also sets both her and her husband up as humanitarians, who, although grieving the loss of their zoo and the brutal and gory deaths of many of their beloved pets, choose to cleverly convert it into a pig farm to smuggle out Jews after the 1939 German invasion of Poland. The film’s script, by Angela Workman, is based on Diane Ackerman’s 2007 non-fiction book of the same name, and has drawn from the real-life Antonina’s diaries, and so, you will find yourself increasingly gravitating to Chastain’s character as the movie progresses. No less admirable is Jan, who, braving fate, makes countless trips to the Warsaw ghetto to smuggle out the Jews rotting away there, bringing them home and keeping them hidden in animal cages and basement tunnels that lead from the house to the zoo. But to balance out the good is ace actor Daniel Brühl’s dark, notorious Lutz Heck, Hitler’s chief – and favourite – zoologist, who pre-war was himself an animal lover who presided over the Berlin zoo, but who post-war, transforms into a brutalised Hitler crony tasked with working at and overseeing the Żabińskis’ bombed-out zoo. In entirety, the Żabińskis saved 300 Jews, of which only two were captured by the Nazis and murdered. Deeply emotional for the most part, and shining the spotlight on the inherent goodness of those who put much at risk during the Holocaust to save the lives of Jews, The Zookeeper’s Wife triumphs in its portrayal of the lesser-known heroes of the holocaust, and its depiction of humanity at its compassionate best. And even though risking one’s life to save others might seem a hugely commendable feat, the real-life Jan, when asked why he and Antonina did what they did, simply said that it was his duty – and that if one could save somebody’s life, it was one’s duty to try.

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl

Watch out for the striking cinematography; a taste of lesser-known Holocaust history; and its poignant portrayal of the human spirit.

Genre: War drama

Trivia: The real-life Antonina and Jan Żabiński carried cyanide pills on their being at all times that were to be swallowed should their secret be discovered by enemy parties.

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