Netflix's 10 Best Book-to- Screen Adaptations of 2017
As 2017 draws to a close, it’s a great opportunity to make use of long evenings and holiday leisure time to dive into a whole stack of movies, TV shows, and books; and with so many great book to screen adaptations this year, there’s no reason not to combine these activities.
Book adaptations continue to be a strong trend, whether it’s in cinemas with the flashy and star-studded Murder on the Orient Express, the opulent and atmospheric My Cousin Rachel, or the uplifting and inspiring Hidden Figures, or whether it’s on the small screen with Amazon’s
weird and mesmerising American Gods, or Hulu’s poignantly political adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Yet for the time being, Netflix still reigns supreme in the cultural consciousness. It has become almost synonymous with home screen entertainment, and this year has been a bumper year for films and series produced by the streaming service. With this in mind I’ve pulled together ten of the best movies and TV shows released by Netflix this year, that have been adapted from books. They cover a big range of genres and styles, and so like the box of assorted chocolates you were given for Kris Kringle, there should be something for everyone... or you could just consume them all yourself and hope no one notices.
Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
FBI Special Agent John Douglas invented and established the practice of criminal profiling. He is a man who has looked evil in the eye and made a vocation of understanding it. Now retired, Douglas can let us inside the FBI elite serial crime unit and into the disturbed minds of some of the most savage serial killers in the world. The man who was the inspiration for Special Agent Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs explains what it was like to submerge himself mentally in the world of serial killers to the point of 'becoming' both perpetrator and victim; and individual case histories including those of Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy.
On Netflix: Produced by Charlize Theron and David Fincher among others, this series based on Douglas’ book, has earned universal acclaim for it’s unflashy yet utterly compelling look at the people whose everyday lives revolve around the most horrifying crimes.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
It's 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Captivating and disturbing, Alias Grace showcases bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood at the peak of her powers.
On Netflix: As mentioned above, this year’s adaptation of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that made headlines around the world, yet Netflix’s Atwood adaptation Alias Grace is by no means less deserving of praise. Presented as a historical true crime series, yet like The Handmaid’s Tale it powerfully explores a dystopian-like environment, in which a woman struggles to take back control of her life.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
This is a love story. A story about growing old with grace. Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbours for years. Now they both live alone, their houses empty of family, their quiet nights solitary. Then one evening Addie pays Louis a visit, proposing an unexpected way they can both ease their loneliness. the two begin sleeping in bed together platonically, with the innocent goal of alleviating their shared loneliness. As their relationship deepens, however, they each deal with grief and loss, and a real romance begins to blossom. Their brave adventures form the beating heart of Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf's exquisite final novel.
On Netflix: This film adaptation of Our Souls at Night sees Jane Fonda and Robert Redford reunite 50 years after their first onscreen pairing in 1966’s The Chase. Now veteran actors, Fonda and Redford deliver this performance with profound humanity and simplicity.
Suburra by Carlo de Bonini Giancarlo De Cataldo
In Ostia, a depressed coastal settlement 20 miles from the powerfuland corrupt city of Rome, a mighty local crime family, the Mafia, corrupt politicians, and new rabid criminal elements battle each other for a billion- dollar payoff when plans are made to turn the seaside town into a gambling paradise. De Cataldo and Bonini have created a compelling, provocative portrait of contemporary Rome - a city prey to pitiless criminal factions and political opportunism. A fast-paced and atmospheric work of crime fiction.
On Netflix: Following the success of the 2015 film of Giancarlo De Cataldo and Carlo Bonini’s book, we are now getting a prequel for these characters. While not a straight adaptation, this series allows us to dive into the opulent world and the depraved characters. It’s inventive plotting and uncliched characterisation make this an unmissable entry to the mobster genre.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she struggles to raise their children in an isolated shotgun shack. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding them in a sea of mud. Two young men return from World War 2 to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not and is sensitive to Laura's plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the farm, comes home from war a hero, only to face the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. These two unlikely friends become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale.
On Netflix: This film adaptation, directed by Dee Rees, wonderfully captures the stifling and moody melodrama of Jordan’s novel. It’s a powerful glimpse into the Jim Crow era, told through sweeping cinematography, and nuanced acting from Carey Mulligan Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige, showcasing Netflix’s ability to present cinematic craftsmanship on the small screen.
A Series Of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Are you made fainthearted by death? Does fire unnerve you? Is a villain something that might crop up in future nightmares of yours? Are you thrilled by nefarious plots? Is cold porridge upsetting to you? Vicious threats? Hooks? Uncomfortable clothing? It is likely that your answers will reveal A Series of Unfortunate Events to be ill-suited for your personal use. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. They are charming, and resourceful, and have pleasant facial features. Unfortunately, they are exceptionally unlucky. The books follow their turbulent life after their parents' death in a fire, the children are placed in the custody of a murderous relative, Count Olaf, who attempts to steal their inheritance.
On Netflix: This series had some notable precedence to live up to, the books are worldwide bestsellers, and the 2004 film adaptation starring Jim Carrey has been a fan favourite. Beyond that, tone and style of the books is not easily translated to screen. Fortunately this adaptation, with stellar performances from Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, and Patrick Warburton as the metafictional author Lemony Snicket, pulls off the quirky, humorous, and bleak elements of the story with great panache.
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are in for a big surprise. They are waiting for an orphan boy to help with the work at Green Gables - but a skinny, red-haired girl turns up instead. Feisty and full of spirit, Anne Shirley charms her way into the Cuthberts' affection with her vivid imagination and constant chatter. It's not long before Anne finds herself in trouble, but soon it becomes impossible for the Cuthberts to imagine life without 'their' Anne - and for the people of Avonlea to recall what it was like before this wildly creative little girl whirled into town.
On Netflix: This daring adaption of L.M. Montgomery’s beloved book can be found on Netflix under the title Anne with an ‘E’. This change of name also marks a departure from the source material, the series takes a darker approach than the books’ idyllic tone. This change will challenge some ardent fans of the books however, for many others it’s a bold and fascinating interpretation of both the character and the setting.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
You can't stop the future. You can't rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret... is to press play. Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker - his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did - and Clay is one of them. If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list - what he hears will change his life forever.
On Netflix: Arguably this year’s biggest Netflix sensation, Thirteen Reasons Why captivated audiences the world over. There has been much discussion about the portrayal of suicide in the show, but regardless this series produced by Selena Gomez, has a wealth acclaim for its thought-provoking and captivating look at adolescent grief.
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Until the age of five, Loung Ung lived in Phnom Penh, a precocious and happy child, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official. When Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into Phnom Penh in April 1975, Loung's family fled their home and were eventually forced to disperse to survive. Loung was trained as a child soldier while her brothers and sisters were sent to labour camps. The surviving siblings were only finally reunited after the Vietnamese penetrated Cambodia and started to destroy the Khmer Rouge. This is an unforgettable book told through the voice of the young and fearless Loung. It is a shocking and tragic tale of a girl who was determined to survive despite the odds.
On Netflix: Angelina Jolie takes the directorial seat on this gripping film adaptation, (she also shares a writing credit with Loung Ung herself). This is clearly a very personal project for both women, they wanted to make it truly a Cambodian story, and so the film’s main language is Khmer and the film was shot in Cambodia (the largest film ever shot there). Jolie portrays this horrifying story with a great deal of empathy, but without ever distancing the viewer from the real life realities involved.
Gerald's Game by Stephen King
Once again, Jessie Burlingame has been talked into submitting to her husband Gerald’s kinky sex games— something that she’s frankly had enough of, and they never held much charm for her to begin with. So much for a “romantic getaway” at their secluded summer home. After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts—and Gerald crosses a line with his wife—the day ends with deadly consequences. Now Jessie is utterly trapped in an isolated lakeside house that has become her prison—and comes face-to-face with her deepest, darkest fears and memories. Her only company is that of the various voices filling her mind... as well as the shadows of nightfall that may conceal an imagined or very real threat right there with her...
On Netflix: It’s been a big year for Stephen King adaptations, in cinemas we’ve had The Dark Tower and a remake of It, and also on Netflix this year saw the release 1922. However, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation Gerald’s Game remains notable among them. Rather than go for jumps and easy scares, Flanagan goes for long, drawn out shots that leave us, claustrophobically trapped with Jessie in her unfolding nightmare.
This article was originally written for Bookwitty.com and published in December, 2017.