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Adapting classic books to film

A post on whether books or films are the best way to appreciate World War Two generated an interesting discussion which I would like to extend to classic literature.

Over the so-called festive period I saw film adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma and Charles Dickens Great Expectations.

Emma starred that excellent actress Anya Joy Taylor in the lead role.

She is not a conventional beauty except for her spell-binding eyes – and has a small delicate face not unlike Dorothy Tutin’s – but she is one of the best actresses around who had a great success in The Queen’s Gambit.

Otherwise I found the film to be a typical costume drama of a country house mansion, servants in livery and swells who did not work.

Great Expectations was on another level.

It was directed by arguably Britain’s finest-ever director David Lean and had a stellar cast with John Mills as Pip, Alec Guinness and Bernard Miles, with the young Jean Simmons too.

Martita Hunt stole the show as Lady Faversham.

Filmed in black and white, which worked well as the story is often sad, some rate this higher than Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge over the River Kwai.

Those two films were hard location shoots forcing David Lean to take time out in between.

It should – and he should – be remembered not just for these epics, but also for his dramatisation of Dickens as he directed Oliver Twist with what is now considered to be an unfortunate depiction of Fagin by Alec Guinness.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts