Culture Vulture: Adaptations

What do Russell Crowe, Don Cheadle, Dick Van Dyke and Anne Hathaway all have in common? Fear not, reader, this isn’t the start of a bad joke. Not got any ideas? These thesps have all been named and shamed by Time Magazine as committing crimes against the British accent. And if you think crime is too strong a word, go back and have another watch of Mary Poppins.

Hathaway, the latest in this long line of offenders, has incurred the wrath of the British press and public with her dodgy Yorkshire accent in One Day, the movie adaptation of the David Nicholls book whose distinctive orange cover has been haunting train carriages and beaches for the last two years. In case you haven’t read it (what have you been doing for the last 24 months?!) it’s classic makes-you-laugh, makes-you-cry fare, that rare beast of a novel that women adore and men can admit to reading without denting their masculinity (too much). Perfect material for a film, surely?

No doubt Nicholls has made a pretty penny off the back of One Day’s big Hollywood makeover and is currently rubbing his hands together in Mr Burns-style glee, but as far as the fans go he was always setting himself up for a fall. Adaptations, let’s face it, rarely live up to the original. I personally have the theory that a successful adaptation of a beloved book, much like that elusive perfect hair day, is a rare and one-off phenomena that is destined never to be repeated. Take J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson hit the jackpot with his trio of films between 2001 and 2003, but the stage version was rather less of a critical and commercial success. Why 1000 odd pages of narrative condensed into three hours complete with singing hobbits wasn’t a hit I can’t imagine.

This whole adaptation fuss, however, is a relatively modern palaver. Back in the good old days of tunics and neck ruffs, no one was worried about something as insignificant as originality. All the greats, from Chaucer through to Shakespeare, were permanently nicking good ideas – usually from the Greeks. The triumph of storytelling and bawdiness that is the The Canterbury Tales is a veritable treasure trove of narrative plunder, while the material for all the Bard’s masterpieces was pillaged from a long tradition of plot borrowing. So why do we get our knickers in such a twist about a new version of a story that has already been told?

One adaptation hoping to disprove the one-shot-only rule is the new West End production of Cool Hand Luke, the Donn Pearce book that was turned into a hit chain gang film with a fearsome performance from Paul Newman. Familiar face Marc Warren will be stepping into Newman’s mighty big shoes and hoping to avoid the wrath of hardcore fans when the play opens later this month at the Aldwych Theatre. I have just one piece of advice for Mr Warren: make sure you nail the accent.

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