Friday 16 November 2018

The great leap from page to screen

BLOSSOMING: Over the years various actors have played Daisy, including, Mia Farrow, who starred
with Robert Redford
BLOSSOMING: Over the years various actors have played Daisy, including, Mia Farrow, who starred with Robert Redford

Claire Coughlan

British actress Carey Mulligan, who has been cast as Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's 3D version of The Great Gatsby, has said that she is "terrified" about playing one of literature's most iconic characters (said to be partly based on F Scott Fitzgerald's vivacious wife, Zelda). Luhrmann's lavish production is the seventh film version of Gatsby, since the novel was first published in 1925. So, whose shoes does Mulligan have to fill?

A silent version of the movie was adapted from the stage in 1926, starring Lois Wilson as Daisy. Wilson was once described as "the soft, marrying kind of woman". (Although she never married in real life.) This film is now lost and a trailer at the National Archives and Records Administration in the US is all that is known to exist.

Acclaimed film and stage actress Betty Field stepped into the role in the 1949 adaptation, which also featured Shelley Winters and Alan Ladd.

The best-known big screen version of the movie, however, was Jack Clayton's 1974 film, which was scripted by Francis Ford Coppola and starred Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan (and a four-year-old Patsy Kensit as her young daughter).

Mira Sorvino became Daisy in the BBC's adaptation of The Great Gatsby in 2000. Sorvino said that when she was offered the part she jumped at it, as since her Oscar-winning turn as a prostitute in the Woody Allen movie Mighty Aphrodite, she was used to being offered roles as "happy hookers".

G, a loosely based, modernised version of the book appeared in 2002, "a Gatsby-esque love story, set against the hip-hop invasion of the Hamptons". Chenoa Maxwell starred as Sky Hightower, a Daisy Buchanan-esque character. A Korean adaptation then appeared in 2007, starring Park Ye-jin.

The 2012 version is directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann, who is famous for his modern approach to Romeo and Juliet in 1996, where the Montagues and Capulets carried out their feuds in 1990s-era Venice Beach. Carey Mulligan has been cast opposite Leonardo Di Caprio as Gatsby (Di Caprio brought an angsty Romeo to our screens 15 years ago). Meanwhile, Tobey Maguire will take on the mantle of observer Nick Carraway and Aussie star Isla Fisher (and wife of comedian Sasha Baron Cohen) will play Myrtle.

A good book does not necessarily make a good film. So, it's with bated breath that fans of F Scott Fitzgerald wait to see what Australian director Baz Luhrmann will do with his forthcoming 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby, when he begins filming in Sydney shortly, with a reported budget of $120 million.

This year has already seen multiple adaptations of popular and iconic books, from Dublin writer Alan Glynn's novel Limitless (which was originally published as The Dark Fields), to Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, which was aired by the BBC last month, to Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White.

The forthcoming movie release of Allison Pearson's 2002 novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, which explores the dilemmas of juggling babies with a career for modern women, and stars Sarah Jessica Parker, has been greeted with nigh on hysteria by certain glossy magazines.

Other much-hyped productions include an adaptation of David Nicholls' weepy, One Day, starring Anne Hathaway (out on August 26) and Kathryn Stockett's hugely popular and Oprah-endorsed The Help; as well as We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver's controversial tale of a high-school massacre, narrated by the perpetrator's mother, which stars Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly (the latter two are out in October).

Next spring's film release of Suzanne Collins' dystopian young-adult novel, The Hunger Games, about a world where young people compete to the death on a live TV show, is set to bring the author's work to a wider audience.

So, does a movie automatically raise the profile of an author, considering that most publishers release new movie tie-in editions of books? Dublin-based author Alan Glynn agrees that it does.

"It does raise your profile generally, there's more press interest," he says.

Glynn's debut novel The Dark Fields, which was originally published in 2001, was released on screen earlier this year as Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper as Eddie, a man who discovers a top-secret drug that endows him with super-human mental faculties.

"Books don't get advertised, really. Publishers don't have the budget, so having a movie tie-in is like a form of advertising," he says.

"Limitless was advertised during the Super Bowl in February -- the book was tied in with the movie -- and that's the kind of opportunity that a book very rarely gets."

Glynn's third novel, Bloodlands, which will be out next month, is about illegal mining in the Congo, which sounds like the perfect backdrop for a movie. Would he ever be tempted to write a film script himself for one of his books?

"Not really," he says. "When you're writing, you live so closely with something, the idea of going back and deconstructing the book and putting it back together again, is something I would find it very hard to do."

So, does a good book always adapt well into a movie?

"No, I don't think necessarily it does. It's a very hard thing to pin down. You mentioned Gatsby earlier on, which is obviously a great, great book and there have been versions of it which have been faithful in a technical way, but which have been awful."

Gail Egan of UK-based Potboiler Productions, which brought John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener to the big screen and has recently bought the rights to The Little Stranger, a 2009 novel by Sarah Waters, prefers to stay faithful to a book's story.

"In my view, even if you have to change it [the ending], I like to stay true at least to the feeling that you have at the end. And sometimes you can't do it absolutely the same, but I think it's a shame if you adapt a book and you completely change the ending."

The Little Stranger, an atmospheric ghost story set in post-war Britain, is currently being scripted by Lucinda Coxon, who adapted Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White for the BBC. How involved is the author once the rights have been sold?

"It varies hugely, from book to book," Egan says. "Some authors want to be involved all the way along; some don't want to be involved at all because the process is so completely different. I love it when an author does want to be involved but I completely understand when they don't want to be."

But when it comes to adapting a novel, the screenwriter has to be on the same page as the production team. "It's a different skill and you don't want to make the film very different from the book -- but it has to be different because it has to tell a story in a completely different way and yet remain true to the essence of the book, otherwise, why would you bother, when you could make an original? It's about finding somebody who shares your vision of what the story can be when it comes to the screen."

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