Tuesday 24 April 2018

Tóibín bucks trend with movie deal

News that Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn is to be made into a movie leads to the reflection that few Irish works of fiction have been adapted for film -- and even fewer with any artistic success.

Perhaps our writers are too "literary" and too ruminative for their books to transfer easily to the screen. The great exception has been Roddy Doyle, who has always thought in cinematic terms and whose dialogue-driven Barrytown books were screenplays in the making for vividly realised movies, most notably The Snapper.

And Neil Jordan brought his heightened visual imagination to Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, though oddly his own fine novels have never led to screen versions, by himself or anyone else.

William Trevor's outstanding short story, The Ballroom of Romance, was ably filmed by Pat O'Connor, but apart from Atom Egoyan's chilling movie of Felicia's Journey, his novels remain resistant to film-making.

And leaving aside a pallid version of The Last September, the same can be said of Elizabeth Bowen, while so far we wait in vain for film adaptations of John Banville, Sebastian Barry, Emma Donoghue, Anne Enright, Colum McCann or indeed the scores of Irish thriller writers whose work would seem conducive to the big or small screen.

That leaves James Joyce, the most determinedly literary of Irish writers, who has enjoyed mixed success in film adaptations. First there was Joseph Strick's 1967 version of Ulysses, which was a bold but doomed attempt to reimagine a complex masterpiece in visual terms.

Then a decade later, the same director took on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977) in a film that proved to be overly earnest and very leaden.

But in 1987 the dying John Huston fulfilled his dream of filming The Dead with a remarkable ensemble cast of Irish players. Although mostly filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, it recreated its Dublin setting exquisitely and it remains one of the finest and truest movie adaptations of a great work of literature.

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