One definition of a classic book is a work which inspires many metamorphoses. Romeo and Juliet, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Great Gatsby don’t just wait in their original forms to be watched or read, but continually migrate from one medium to another: painting, opera, melodrama, dramatization, film, comic-strip. New technologies inspire further reincarnations. Sometimes it’s a matter of transferring a version from one medium to another – audio recordings to digital files, say. More often, the new technologies encourage new realisations: Hitchcock’s Psycho re-shot in colour; French or German films remade for American audiences; widescreen or 3D remakes of classic movies or stories.
Adaptations of literary works for the screen have become ever more prominent; not only in television scheduling, but in the teaching of literature. They are among the metamorphoses that feature most often in the working lives of academics and students in the Arts and Humanities. So they might well feature among the topics to be discussed at the Festival’s opening panel.
The adaptation that’s been preoccupying me for the last month is the BBC2 version of Parade’s End, the series of four novels about the Edwardian era and the First World War, written by the British novelist Ford Madox Ford, and dramatized by Sir Tom Stoppard.
Parade’s End (1924-28) has to be one of the most challenging books to film. It’s a classic work of Modernism: with a non-linear time-scheme that can jump around in disconcerting ways; dense experimental writing that plays with styles and techniques. Though it includes some of the most brilliant conversations in the British novel, and its characters have a strong dramatic presence, much of it is inherently un-dramatic and, you might have thought, unfilmable: long interior monologues, descriptions of what characters see and feel; and – perhaps hardest of all to convey in drama – moments when they don’t say what they feel, or do what we might expect of them. Imagine T. S.Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, populated by Chekhovian characters, but set on the Western Front. Continue reading