Literature has been through ages one of the most important source of film scripts. A bygone generation would probably remind you that even before the advent of cinema theatre, street plays and musicals were some of the biggest crowd pullers. In fact, in large parts of the world theatre is still a popular source of entertainment and its stage is still the training ground for numerous actors and actresses.
But when the written words are converted into a full length cinema and the reader’s imagination is given a vivid, real life picture, there arises a debate—that is whether the director is made justice to the book or the play. Some would like to believe that the details that are expressed in a book can never be covered by the film, no matter how hard a film maker try. Hence a book will always remain a book and reading it, will always be a much richer experience than watching it being enacted on screen. Though, a few would like to disagree in this regard, film makers have never stepped back from taking a risk. Classics like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s , Erich Maria Remarque’s All quiet on the Western Front, Ken Kesey’s One flew over the cuckoo’s nest to the modern day fiction like Dawn Brown’s Angels and Demons , Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake have all been made into films. Some of these have also won various international awards including the Oscars. The second debate that arises when a film maker is trying to convert a text into a feature film is on the degree of improvising that can or should be allowed. While bookworms like to see exact word by word similarity between a book and a movie, a film maker will crave for his creative space and greater independence to improvise.
Conversely many movies are now being penned down in the form of books. The number of these reverse conversions of course is much lesser.
Now if we leave aside book and strictly go by the play, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Shakespeare’s plays which have been enacted in several languages across the world and later adapted into movies. But unlike these plays’ literary success, its on-screen adaption have not achieved much success. Here is the list of our top five stage to film adaptations:
My fair lady: One of the longest-running Broadway musical , My Fair Lady, was adapted by Alan Jey Lerner and Federick Loewe from the George Bernard Shaw’s play—Pygmalion. The story concerns, Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn) , a cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from phonetics expert—professor Hengry Higgins so that she may pass as a lady.
The play received the Tony Award for being ‘the perfect musical’, while the film received eight oscars in 1964 which including the ones for the best picture, best directing, best song and best costume design.
Sound of Music: One of the all time famous musical, The Sound of Music is based on the true story of Trapp family singers. Julia, Andrews (Maria) acts as a young and is send to be the governess for the children of the widowed captain Von Trapp. Initially when Maria arrives in the family, she finds her boss cold and aloof. But over the passage of time, she has a great time with the kids and falls for the captain towards the end of the film.
This 1965 musical won five academy awards including the best picture and displaced Gone With The Wind as the highest-gross film of all-time. Its accompanying sound track album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Fiddler on the roof: This musical is based on a book by Joseph Stein. Fiddler on the Roof held the record for the longest running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed it. It remains Broadway’s sixteenth longest running show in history. It was nominated for ten Tony awards, winning nine which includes best musical, score, direction and choreography. The film won three academy awards.
Chicago: Chicago is originally a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins. The book was written on the basis of a murder that Watkins had covered as a reporter for the Chicago Tribue. This in turn inspired a 1975 musical which ran by the same name and then was adapted as an academy award winning movie in 2002.
August Osage County: This 2014 Oscar nominated film is an on-screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer winning play of the same name. It is directed by John Wells and enacted by a bunch of super stars including Meryl Steep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch. The plot of this film is one of a dysfunctional American family in Okhlahoma where a number of family secrets are revealed one after the other to intensify the drama and adult misery.
August Osage county received mixed reviews and was nominated for two Oscars. A few film critics claimed that some of Hollywod’s leading ladies were competing for their roles and overacting at times, instead of being their natural self. But what received unanimous applause was the script of the film.