For as long as stories have been being told on our screens, novels have been mined as source material. While often the product is far from the original text, adaptations can breathe new life into a story and illuminate a new aspects of some of our favorite fictional worlds. With the advent of popular streaming services and ever increasing production budgets, now more than ever books are being turned into films. Here are some of my favorite television shows based on books.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke. This book has it all—intricate history told against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, political intrigue, battle scenes, magicians, fairies, and books—so it is no surprise that it would be adapted into a stellar TV show. This seven episode mini-series produced by BBC One boasts an impressive cast with actors Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan in the titular roles. Of all of the adaptations on this list, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell stays as close to the story portrayed by the book as it can.
Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin. It seems like a given that Game of Thrones would be on this list. HBO’s mega-hit series has changed everything I thought possible when it comes to creating a TV show—especially a fantasy TV show. While the response to the last few seasons of this show was not as enthusiastic as when it was originally released, there is no denying the cultural impact it has had. This show is full of slow burning plot lines, unexpected twists, and makes for an experience that cannot be described as anything less than entertaining.
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin. In 2019 Netflix released a star studded revival of Armistead Maupin’s popular series Tales from the City. This miniseries is a continuation of three previous miniseries based on Maupin’s work and features some of the same characters. This incarnation of the show goes even further by way of diversity and inclusion and gives a voice to many characters who are extremely underrepresented by the media. All the while, a riveting and emotional mystery unfolds that will have viewers hooked until the end.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. In 1985 when Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale, there was no way of knowing that the story would draw so many parallels to the coming world. In 2017 when season one premiered, it seemed as if there was no show that the world needed more. The Handmaid’s Tale shows just how fine the line is between freedom and a strict totalitarian regime. It emphasizes the danger of discrimination and valuing one type of human life over another. Most importantly, in my opinion, this show highlights the danger that some women face every day simply for existing.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson. I started this list with an adaption that stayed fairly true to its source material, and so it feels only natural that I end it with something that deviates from the original in a big way. Like so many adaptions of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the 2018 Netflix show is a far cry from the novel. This fresh take on the Hill House, however, is one of those cases where the story is given new life. As terrifying as it is compelling, this show will suck you in until its final episode. I only have two pieces of advice about how best to watch it: with the lights on and not alone!