Film & Stage Adaptations of Classic Novels

Jane Eyre — 1943 film based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë

How can Charlotte Brontë’s masterwork, be crammed into a time frame of just over an hour and a half? This feat of compression was accomplished by Hollywood for the 1943 film version of Jane Eyre. To clear up any confusion, the film was released at the end of 1943 in Britain, and had its American release of February, 1944.

Nearly a quarter of the film covers young Jane’s torturous experience at the Lowood School, based on the actual place that Charlotte and her sisters attended in Yorkshire. The experience proved fatal for one of the Brontë sisters, Maria, who became gravely ill and died. That was likely the inspiration, if one can call it that, for the character of Helen Burns, one of Jane’s fellow students who becomes a dear friend. Helen is played by a young and lovely Elizabeth Taylor. She’s uncredited in the cast, but her breakthrough role would come soon after as the star of National Velvet (1944). Read More→

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Rebecca — 1940 Movie Based on the Novel by Daphne du Maurier

The 1940 movie version of Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name, was a psychological thriller with nod to the gothic tradition. The black-and-white film, which captured the moody, mysterious feel of the book, was the first American film by director Alfred Hitchcock. Joan Fontaine starred in the role of the naïve young woman who marries a brooding widower Maxim de Winter, portrayed by Laurence Olivier.

Rebecca, the departed first wife of de Winter, is never seen in the film, but casts a powerful shadow over the inhabitants of Manderlay castle. The suspense builds until we learn just why that is. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and won two, for Best Picture and for Cinematography. Read More→

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1939 Movie Adaptation of Wuthering Heights

The 1939 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights, based on the novel by Emily Brontë, is considered an American film classic. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler, the screenplay took some liberties with the original stories to streamline it into a film whose run time is less than two hours. It covers barely half of the novel’s 34 chapters, cutting out the second generation of characters.

Wuthering Heights was nominated for eight Academy Awards, but faced stiff competition that year from Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Despite the liberties taken with the story, the film retained the dark, brooding mood of the book, and was generally praised by critics. Read More→

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Miniseries and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

If you’re the kind of Jane Austen fan who reads Pride and Prejudice every year or two, chances are good that you’ve seen at least one of its miniseries or film adaptations. Considering the unabated reverence for this novel, it’s somewhat surprising that there haven’t been more. For many devotees, there can never be Too Much Jane.

In addition to the miniseries and film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice listed here, there was also a 1967 British TV adaptation which seems to have been lost to time. Which of these have you seen? Which do you think is most faithful to the original spirit of the novel? Read More→

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The Birds – 1963 Film Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I made the mistake of seeing The Birds, a 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock when I was young. Not being a fan of all things scary, I never quite recovered enough to give it a second view as an adult, especially since it’s based on a novella of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, an author I admire (Rebecca is one of my favorite classics).  The following article/review about the film reveals the surprising fact that the masses of birds were — real birds! Of course, in today’s world it would have been done digitally. 

From the Galveston Daily News, April 28, 1963: New Technique For ‘Birds’ Unites Music, Shock Effect: Alfred Hitchcock understated it when he said of his latest thriller, The Birds, “It could be the most terrifying film I’ve ever made.”

It is. Opening day audiences, even those who expect shock and excitement from a Hitchcock work, were stunned by never-before-seen passages showing tens of thousands of birds in massed attacks on people. Read More→

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