So, you’ve already binged all of Normal People and you’re looking for something new to watch. We’ve scoured popular streaming platforms for the best literary adaptations to suit your preferred genre so you don’t have to. From cosy crime to sci-fi that’ll make you starry-eyed, we’ve got you covered!
Raise your hand if, when you heard the news that we’d be in lockdown for at least three weeks there was a part of you, somewhere beneath the worry and sadness, that thought, ‘Oh great, more time to read without social obligations to take up my time!’
Come on, don’t be shy. There’s no shame in it. Introverts, you’re among friends here and it’s safe to admit that you weren’t heartbroken to have a solid excuse to indulge in your favourite pastime for an indefinite amount of time whilst keeping yourself and others safe.
Okay. Now raise your hand if you’ve found yourself unable to plough through all the books you thought you would.
My hand is raised. It’s been incredibly frustrating! I’ve found that I haven’t been able to concentrate. I feel restless when I sit down and open a book. The words swim in front of my eyes (note to self: must book optician’s appointment once lockdown is lifted).
Maybe you’ve been luckier than I have, in which case I will kindly direct you to our Willoughby Recommends blog post in the hope you may find some inspiration for your next read. But, if this sounds painfully familiar, read on!
As I type this, the familiar, taunting call of, “But the book was better!” is ringing in my ears. But, please, just hear me out.
Perhaps it is time to get your literary fix through an alternative medium. There’s a whole host of adaptations available out there and I’ve compiled a list of recommendations, based on the genre you might be craving, and where you can find them.
There’s a mixture of feature films and television series. Some titles may be familiar to you and hopefully there are some you haven’t heard of! I’ve tried to include suggestions from a range of platforms in the hopes that you’ll have access to at least one of them. Those that are on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are included with the membership, so you won’t incur any additional costs.
So, without further ado, please peruse my humble suggestions. I hope that you will find something that piques your interest among them!
for those of you who’d love to indulge in a classic…
The Great Gatsby (2013) – Netflix
In his trademark playful style, Baz Luhrmann encapsulates all the opulence and excess of Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel in his heady and vivacious interpretation. With an excellent soundtrack, gorgeous costume and set design, as well as excellent performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, this is one to watch if you’re in the mood for a party (with a side of heartbreak).
War and Peace (2016) – iPlayer
Based on Leo Tolstoy’s epic 1865 novel, this mini-series aired originally aired on BBC One a few years ago. With a sprawling story following five families at the height of Russia’s conflict with Napoleon, this is a great one to get stuck into while you’re housebound.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Amazon Prime
The legendary Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch in this adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved 1960 novel of the same name. If you haven’t seen this one before, then what are you waiting for? It’s a textbook example of an adaptation done right.
if you fancy curling up with some cosy crime…
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012 – present) – Netflix
This series is based on the popular books by Kerry Greenwood. Set in the 1920s in Australia, it follows Phryne Fisher, a glamorous female sleuth, who is as likely to be found looking fabulous in Melbourne’s jazz clubs as she is solving crime.
The Pale Horse (2020) – iPlayer
Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse, originally published in 1961, has been adapted by Sarah Phelps and unfolds over just two episodes – so, it’s a good one to watch if you haven’t the patience for a longer series or film! It features Rufus Sewell as Mark Easterbrook, who is thrust into the mystery when a list of names, including his, is found on the body of a murdered woman.
Crooked House (2017) – Netflix
Yes, I’m sorry, it’s another Christie adaptation but there wasn’t much to choose from in the cosy crime category! This one’s a classic ‘lots of shady people are in a big old house together’ whodunnit, with a rather impressive cast to boot. The best fare for an evening snuggled up on the sofa.
Or maybe you prefer some grittier crime…
Gone Girl (2014) – Netflix
I remember when Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was first published in 2012 – everyone was talking about it. When the film came out two years later, it wasn’t surprising that it was a great success. Flynn wrote the screenplay herself and David Fincher, whose unique style lent itself so well to the narrative, directed. I’ll be surprised if you’re a thriller fan and you haven’t seen this one, but I’d wager that it’ll hold up well as a re-watch.
The Cry (2018) – BBC iPlayer
Based on the novel by Helen Fitzgerald, The Cry came to our screens as a four-part drama in 2018. Featuring an excellent performance by Jenna Coleman, this kept half the nation glued to their TV screens for an hour every week for month. It’ll make an excellent binge watch.
Bosch (2014 – present) – Amazon Prime
This series brings Michael Connolly’s LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch to our screens. It’s been praised for the changes made to the source material, primarily with the aim bringing Bosch into a far more technologically advanced world than that his inhabited when the books were first published in the 1990s. It seems that they’ve got the feel of it spot on – the characterisation of the protagonist, the sweeping visuals of LA and the jazz heavy soundtrack.
If historical fiction is your bag…
Wolf Hall (2015) – BBC iPlayer
Starring Damien Lewis, this series portrays the first two books in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. If you missed this the first time around, now’s a great time to catch up. Especially because Peter Kosminsky, the director, was allegedly sent the manuscript of The Mirror and the Light in advance in order to begin work on the adapting it for our screens – very exciting!
Birdsong (2012) – Channel4
Eddie Redmayne and Clémence Poésy star in this two-part adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ 1993 novel. This epic love story is a great one to lose yourself in over the course of a few hours – pay particular attention to the costumes, the series one a BAFTA Craft Award for those!
The Handmaiden – Amazon Prime
I heard of this film when it won the BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film, but I didn’t realise that it is in fact based on Sarah Waters’ flawless historical masterpiece, Fingersmith! Rather than taking place in Victorian England, the film is set in 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation. These differences shouldn’t put a fan of the book off, though. Waters herself praised the film for how faithful it was to the text, despite the changes.
There’s some truly fantastic fantasy out there…
Good Omens (2019) – Amazon Prime
You can always rely on Neil Gaiman for great characters and an even greater story. This rip-roaring adaptation is fast paced and fun. Watching this unlikely but loveable angel and demon duo battle Armageddon, will provide you with a much need respite from our current predicament.
His Dark Materials (2019) – BBC iPlayer
Maybe some of us were left feeling… rather deflated after watching The Golden Compass (2007), based on Philip Pullman’s novel, Northern Lights. This more recent adaptation should not be discounted simply because the last was disappointing. I think that the books better suit a television series, where more detail can be included and more time dedicated to unveiling the story.
The Witcher (2019) – Netflix
This series is based on a series of novels and short stories, originally written in Polish, by Andrzej Sapkowski. The story follows Geralt, who is the titular witcher, a mutated monster hunter, an ambitious sorceress called Yennefer and a lost princess, Ciri. Their destinies are tied together, their story lines converging over the episodes. It may feel a bit confusing at first, perhaps even a little silly (though I think that’s part of its charm), but the story is compelling enough to keep you watching all the way through.
And some super sci-fi…
The Man in the High Castle – Amazon Prime
This one may technically be more speculative fiction, but I prefer to think of it as a two-for: alternate history with a dash of sci-fi. Apparently, this show differs somewhat from Philip K Dick’s novel of the same title, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t read it. I do know that this series is great – very well produced with convincing performances across the board.
Altered Carbon (2018 – present) – Netflix
This cyberpunk series is based on the novel by Richard K. Morgan. With Emmy-nominated special visual effects and a gripping plot, including a murder mystery, this is a series you’ll be glad to dive into while you have some extra time.
Electric Dreams (2017) – Channel4
This is a ten-episode anthology series, each based on a different short story by Philip K Dick and each a completely stand-alone story, so the perfect series to dip in and out of as it takes your fancy. Plus, it boasts a truly star-studded cast with the likes of Brian Cranston, Steve Buscemi and Janelle Monáe.
Lose yourself in a stunning romance…
Carol (2015) – Netflix
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, originally published in 1952, Carol stars Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara as two women who meet in a department store and have an immediate attraction to each other. It follows their affair and while it explores repression and has its moments of devastation, it beautifully executes Highsmith’s happy ending, which was previously unprecedented in queer fiction.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Amazon Prime
Adapted from Annie Proulx’s short story of the same name, Brokeback Mountain is a devastating love story about two shepherds in rural Wyoming. Unlike Carol, this doesn’t have a happy ending and is instead one to sob into a tub of ice cream over, rejoicing that at least no one will see your red rimmed eyes afterwards.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – iPlayer
Sorry, another weepy one but I really did struggle to find an adaptation that wasn’t on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video that fit the romance category. It’s based on a true, originally detailed by Peter Turner in his memoir published in 1986. A former Hollywood starlet, Gloria Grahame, meets the much younger Peter Turner whilst starring in a play in London. They fall madly in love, but their lives are complicated when Gloria is diagnosed with cancer. You’ll need the tissues for this one!
For the YA lovers..
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Netflix
Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 coming of age novel is spectacularly brought to life in this film starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. It explores love, loss and hope through the eyes of a troubled fifteen-year-old. It also has a brilliant soundtrack, so you can thank me later for reminding you of/introducing you to this film.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) – Netflix
Based on the first in a trilogy by Jenny Han, this is a cute, fun rom-com about Lara Jean, who pretends to date the most popular boy in school after every crush she’s ever had, including her sister’s boyfriend (oof, awkward!), somehow receives a love letter that she never intended to send. This is a sweet and undemanding watch – just what you need right now!
Noughts and Crosses (2020) – BBC iPlayer
Malorie Blackman’s iconic series unfolds in this brand new, six-part BBC adaptation. Like The Man in the High Castle, this story has an alternative history: Africa colonized Europe. Crosses, who are black, rule over Noughts, who are white, in this segregated world. The story is told from the perspectives of two childhood friends – Sephy, a Cross and Callum, a Nought – who are fast developing romantic feelings for each other.
Memoir might be more up your street…
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019) – Netflix
Chiwetel Ejiofor makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of William Kamkwamba’s memoir of the same name. It tells the astonishing tale how William was able to restore his village’s land and save his community from famine by building a wind turbine at just thirteen years old in the early 2000s.
Brain on Fire (2016)– Netflix
At just twenty-four, Susannah Cahalan experienced a series of symptoms, each more severe and terrifying than the last, that left her convinced she was descending into an untreatable state of ‘madness’. A whole host of medical professionals were left stumped before one brilliant doctor was able to prove the cause of her horrific ordeal.
Beautiful Boy (2018) – Amazon Prime
This is based on a pair of memoirs by David and Nic Sheff, about their family’s experience dealing with Nic’s debilitating drug addiction. It’s an incredibly moving story about guilt, relapse, recovery and an unbreakable bond between a father and son.