| 15.9°C Dublin

Judging a television series by its book...

Next week BBC2 will launch a major new drama series based on the Booker Prize-winning historical novels of Hilary Mantel. Wolf Hall will tell the gripping story of Thomas Cromwell, a ruthless commoner who inveigles his way into the court of Henry VIII and eventually becomes the king's most powerful advisor.

Mark Rylance, Damien Lewis and Claire Foy will head an impressive cast in a lavish production that apparently cost £7million to make. But the show's creators will have their fingers crossed next Wednesday night, because Ms Mantel's many fans will be ready to pounce on anything that falls below the impeccably high standards of her novels.

Adapting books for the small screen can be a tricky business, but at least Wolf Hall has the BBC in its corner. They're past masters of the literary adaptation game, and feature prominently on our list of the best TV novel adaptations ever, which starts with an absolute classic.

1. I, Claudius

Jack Warden's adaptation of Robert Graves' historical novels got the moral majority all in a flap back in 1976 due to its racy, violent content. But dodgy sets aside, it's one of the truly great TV shows, and Derek Jacobi made his name playing the stammering Claudius, who emerges as a surprisingly competent ruler in the aftermath of his crazy nephew Caligula's death.

2. Strumpet City

You have to admire the nerve of RTE and producers Tony Barry and John Kelleher for taking on James Plunkett's historical epic in the first place. A clever adaptation by Hugh Leonard helped memorably recreate the squalor and upheaval of Dublin in the early years of the 20th century. Peter O'Toole gave it socks as union leader James Larkin, but David Kelly stole the show as Rashers Tierney.

3. Pride & Prejudice

Jane Austen's timeless novel has been adapted for big and small screens many times, but Andrew Davies' 1995 TV series is certainly the most memorable. American actress Jennifer Ehle starred as Elizabeth Bennet, a penniless but resolute young woman who refuses to be impressed by the wealth and swagger of landed gent Mr Darcy, played by a wonderfully grumpy Colin Firth.

4. Bleak House

It's Andrew Davies again, this time taking on one of Charles Dickens' most devilishly complex novels and producing a TV masterpiece. Gillian Anderson was perfectly cast as the haughty and stylish Lady Dedlock, a society beauty whose respectable marriage to Sir Leicester Dedlock hides a dark secret in her distant past. And Charles Dance played a scheming barrister who'd put you off lawyers for good.

5. Brideshead Revisited

ITV's sumptuous 1981 drama remained pretty faithful to Evelyn Waugh's novel, but managed to be a lot more entertaining. A young Jeremy Irons played Charles Ryder, a student at Oxford in the 1920s who becomes best friends with the charming and dissolute Lord Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews). Charles is impressed by the splendour of Sebastian's family estate, but even more taken with his beautiful sister.

6. Dexter

Few recall that Showtime's Emmy-winning crime drama was actually based on a novel, Jeff Lindsay's 2004 book Darkly Dreaming Dexter. But it took some wonderfully dark adapting and Michael C. Hall's brilliant acting to turn Dexter Morgan into TV's favourite psychopath. A blood-spatter analyst by day, and a serial killer by night, Dexter does his best to only murder those victims who so richly deserve their fate.

7. The Vampire Diaries

Set in a small Virginia town literally crawling with supernatural phenomena, The Vampire Diaries stars Nina Dobrev as Elena Gilbert, a teenage girl who brings down all manner of trouble on herself and her family when she falls in love with a 163-year-old vampire. But the show that seemed so fresh was actually based on a book by L.J. Smith that had been knocking around since the early 1990s.

8. Sherlock

Arthur Conan Doyle's drug-addicted detective has been a popular character in TV and films since the 1940s, but in 2010 Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat gave Sherlock Holmes a daring makeover by depicting him in the present day. Benedict Cumberbatch is Holmes, an arrogant and socially remedial private investigator who's consulted by the great and the good whenever a major crime goes down in London.

9. House of Cards

A lot of people think that Netflix's award-winning political thriller House of Cards is based on the 1990 BBC TV series of the same name, but in fact both shows were inspired by a satirical 1989 novel by Conservative politician Michael Dobbs. In the Netflix version, Kevin Spacey is Frank Underwood, an oily South Carolina congressman who does unspeakable things in order to reach the White House, and doesn't even have the good manners to be ashamed of himself.

10. Game of Thrones

Four seasons in and the manic support for this epic fantasy series shows no sign of waning, but it's all due to the original stories of George R. R. Martin. Originally published in the mid-90s to little acclaim, his Game of Thrones novel was the beginning of a five-book cycle set in the mythical kingdoms of Westeros and Essos. It was HBO which backed the TV adaptation, made with a mix of intrigue, sex and violence that has proved totally irresistible.

Irish Independent