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11th Nov 2021

6 adaptations that give the books a run for their money

Katy Thornton

Yep, sometimes the adaptation just does it better! An unpopular opinion from an avid reader, but there you are.

While the source material always has a place in our hearts, sometimes tv and film just… gets it right. It’s not to say the book isn’t good – often I appreciate a book more after seeing the adaptation. It can draw your attention to details you might have missed within the text. Last week we went through books that are better than their adaptations; this week we’re doing the exact opposite!

Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty’s novel turned into the television phenomenon of the same name. With an all-star cast, including Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman, and many more, it was hard not to be the amazing adaptation it is. Now, season two was probably (definitely) not needed, but we’ll forgive that because we got Meryl Streep so. Big Little Lies follows several mothers as they navigate their lives and school politics, all on the backdrop of an impending murder.

The Shawshank Redemption

I didn’t know for many years that The Shawshank Redemption is not only adapted from a book, it’s actually adapted from a Stephen King short story. For a movie with a runtime of 2 hours and 22 minutes, many will be surprised to know the short story version isn’t even 100 pages. Perhaps it’s that the film fleshed out the story, but this is a clear time when the movie surpasses its original material. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is charged with the murder of his wife and her lover, and ends up in Shawshank Prison, where he grows close to several inmates while always maintaining his innocence.


I’m a big fan of Jane Austen’s novels, so this is in no way saying the 1815 novel of Emma is bad. It’s definitely not, but the most recent 2020 adaptation, starring Anya Taylor Joy, just has a little something that never came across in the novel. Emma is something of a matchmaker for her companions, whilst having no plans to marry herself. Her schemes tend to go array, making for a whimsical and light hearted tale.

The Notebook

Hands down, the 2004 film of The Notebook is better than the novel (no offence Nicholas Spark). Having loved the film growing up, I was excited to read the novel for the first time, and found myself left hugely wanting. I have loved previous Sparks’ novels, so that’s not to say he’s a bad writer; I just loved how this story was adapted for film. I’ll stick to watching Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling whenever I want my Noah and Allie fix in future.

The Handmaid’s Tale

This is a tricky and possibly controversial one. Again, I am a huge Margaret Atwood fan, and I adored the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The series wins out from the novel only slightly, and simply because it’s at times easier to truly understand the horrors of Gilead on screen. That said, I would still recommend fans of the series to read the source material. The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on a woman forced into surrogacy in a dystopian version of America called Gilead.


Again, this one is just personal preference. While I enjoyed the Colm Tóibín novel Brooklyn, I have a soft spot for the movie adaptation, starring Saoirse Ronan as Eilis. Eilis moves from Ireland to Brooklyn in search of better work opportunities, where she experiences life as she never has before. While initially she feels homesick, eventually she ends up loving her life in America, only for a tragedy to occur back home that beckons her back to Ireland.

Are there any movies you think we missed? We’re sure there’s more, and so there might just be a part two to this article as well.

Header image via Shutterstock

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