From Page to Screen

8th June 2020
From Page to Screen

Librarian Tracey Woosley discusses the secrets of a successful book-to-film adaptation.

Here at the Library it’s obvious we love our books, but we're no less keen on a good film, so it’s always a bonus when one of our favourite books is adapted for the big screen.

But sometimes, like many people, we can be slightly disappointed with the results. It could be to do with the different levels of emotional investment each requires: a book can be with us over several days or weeks as we conjure up the scenes described and create an image of the characters in our heads. The relationship we develop with them can feel personal. By contrast, when watching a film most of the work has already been done for us, so we can feel less involved with the process.

But it's important to bear in mind that books and films are two very different mediums, each with their own unique experiences to offer. While books have the luxury of time to develop subtleness and depth, movies are often limited to two hours or less so have to get to the point much quicker. On the other hand, the film version may have the benefit of a sweeping musical score or beautiful visual images to enhance our emotions, often making the film version seem like the icing on the cake.

If done well, a good adaptation to screen can bring something extra to the story, complementing the book by conveying the emotion of the story visually rather than using word for word accuracy. The most satisfying movie experience of all is one when the picture on the screen exactly matches the image in your head.

Bearing all of that in mind we thought we’d share some of our favourite adaptations:



Set just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s novel, tells the story of two young lovers, Cecilia, the daughter of a wealthy family, and Robbie, the son of their housekeeper. A series of misunderstandings by Cecelia’s younger sister, Briony, sees Robbie imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. 

Years later, appalled by the consequences of her actions, Briony tries to atone for her sins by reuniting her sister with Robbie in the only way she can. The pair are briefly brought together again by the war while a powerful Dunkirk scene realistically portrays the confusion and horror experienced by the soldiers. 

Covering themes of love, class, guilt and the effects of war, this visually rich film explores how lives can be changed forever by one moment in time.


Call Me By Your Name

This bittersweet tale of first love between two young men is set in the beautiful Italian countryside. Images of the pair swimming and riding bikes through the lush scenery combine with an atmospheric soundtrack to effortlessly convey the fleeting feeling of a summer romance. 

Andre Aciman has described the process of writing his novel as similar to chiselling a block of marble to reveal the details, suggesting that the role of director Guadagnino was to make that statue move. The film perfectly achieves this while capturing the timeless spirit of the novel.



Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, this gritty yet darkly comic depiction of heroin addiction provides an authentic portrayal of the harsh reality of drug use. The often difficult-to-read stream of consciousness style throughout the novel is replaced with surreal drug-fuelled images which are contrasted with the squalid reality of life as an addict.

Director Danny Boyle’s portrayal of the surprisingly likeable characters, together with a brilliant, action-enhancing soundtrack, combine to give us one of the most iconic British films ever.


The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje’s complex tale of a WWII nurse caring for a badly injured plane crash victim is beautifully depicted through vivid flashbacks. Using a series of different locations, including a crumbling Italian villa, a Saharan sandstorm and a pre-historic cave, the love affair between the unknown patient of the title and a married woman is gradually revealed.

This multiple Oscar winning film has all the elements of a Greek tragedy told on an epic scale while still focusing on the consequences on the comparatively small lives of those involved.


Little Women

Although I was never a great fan of the novel by Louisa M. Alcott, this version, by director Greta Gerwig, really made me see the classic tale in a new light. Using Louisa May Alcott’s letters and life story, Gerwig has given the author the happy ending she wanted for herself, not necessarily that of the traditional marriage and children, but the publication of her novel.

The brilliant cast (including Saorise Ronan, Emma Watson and Florence Pugh) vividly bring to life the story of the sisters and their struggle to live life on their own terms. This fresh interpretation of a well-loved novel is heartfelt and uplifting.


If Beale Street Could Talk

Oscar winning director (Moonlight) Barry Jenkins’ visually rich film perfectly conveys the emotional depth of James Baldwin’s novel about a devoted young couple. Tish and Fonny face a miscarriage of justice while also dealing with prejudice and injustice, however at the forefront of events is the universal theme of love.

The warm colour tones throughout the film along with the sweeping violin score combine to create the feeling that we, the viewers, are immersed in Tish and Fonny’s World.

This beautiful film demonstrates the power of love in the face of adversity.




All of these films and many more are available to borrow from the Library.

You can borrow up to six DVDs at once. We’re constantly adding new releases and are happy to consider suggestions from readers for new additions.

Along with categories such as TV box sets, classics, action and comedy, we’ve recently added documentaries, including programmes from popular presenters like David Attenborough, Monty Don and Mary Beard.

We also have our online movie streaming service, Indieflix, showing independent films and documentaries. You can register on our website using your library card and, just like all of our services, it’s totally free.