Where would the film industry be without books? And how many screenwriters manage to do justice to the ones they adapt? Tough task, I know, and that’s why I tend to avoid movies based on favourite books – never seen The Kite Runner, for instance. Although it can work the other way – I didn’t read The English Patient for years, put off by the film, but when I finally got around to it I found it to be much, much better then the movie. Some adaptations are extraordinarily good, though. Looking for something to watch this weekend, I dug out a DVD of Sally Potter’s 1992 Orlando, a freebie in the days when newspapers were using them to get our attention.
I’m not a Virginia Woolf fan although I have read and enjoyed the book, a feminist classic and a love letter to Vita Sackville-West according to her son. The eponymous protagonist begins as a young nobleman in Elizabethan England and ends as a young woman three centuries later in 1928, the year the vote was finally extended to all British women over twenty-one, although the movie takes her up to the 1990s.
This was my fourth viewing of the film and it still transported me. It’s a sumptuous production full of gorgeous tableaux and archly comic eccentricity – the late Quentin Crisp as a raddled Elizabeth I surrounded by simpering sycophants, Jimmy Somerville’s round-faced golden-robed angel, suspended in the sky over Orlando singing in his trademark falsetto. Tilda Swinton is a fabulous Orlando, charmingly gauche and suitably androgynous, seamlessly changing gender after a century or so. Sally Potter conjured up sets of breathtaking beauty and all, apparently, for a song – I heard somewhere that the whole film cost as much to make as a dinosaur’s sneeze in the contemporaneous blockbuster, Jurassic Park. Probably apocryphal but it’s a great story. For my money, it more than did justice to the book and I’m sure I’ll be giving it a fifth airing. How do you feel about books based on films? Are there any that worked well for you?