I learned about ten years ago never to see a movie based on a book you have enjoyed too soon after reading it. After all, how can we expect any two hour rendition to hold up to our expectations after spending a good 15 to 30 hours quietly ensconced in our own vividly imagined version of the author’s meticulously developed world? I also now read critical reviews of such movies with more than the usual reserved skepticism for the same reason.
The “offending” movie ten years ago was the Twilight release in November 2008. My friend who later invited me to join the the book group had avidly read the series and was swept away in the books. It was not my usual cup of tea, but I could see she was eager to share and discuss, and I was eager to share with my friend. She passed the books to me and I set out with some reservation into this YA world. Harry Potter worked for adults, I reasoned.
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by the books and when the first movie was released and my friend had arranged a trip down the mountain for us to see it at a big movie theater, I was almost finished with Breaking Dawn. In fact, I finished the last few pages wrapped up in her car in a snowy parking lot outside the doctor’s office that she visited on the way to see the movie. Terrible planning.
I was so disappointed with the casting of Bella and Edward, because they didn’t seem to come close to my own vivid image of the characters, freshly forged in my mind, that I didn’t enjoy the movie for what it was. It was a shame.
I am never drawn to read “romance” novels, but have always derived pleasure from romantic movies. An evening spent by myself on the couch with my pajamas on, and a blanket and the dog for company, while my husband is traveling for work is my time for romantic movies. Years later I did watch the whole Twilight series of movies during these times, and with much more enjoyment. I have known from that one experience that distance from the reading makes all the difference to me.
So that’s where I found myself this weekend. Husband traveling, bitterly cold outside, and in the mood for movies. Starting the blog had me in a book mood so I headed for “search” in the movie sections with the word “book.” Two movies came up that I hadn’t seen, but I had read the books and some years ago. With appropriate distance I decided to give them a go.
What a lovely evening!
First I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The movie didn’t seem to get rave written reviews from critics, but as far as I can see, it has been more warmly received than those reviews initially indicate with a rotten tomatoes score of 81%. In search of a romantic movie on a cold night in alone, it was exactly what I needed it to be. The movie was beautifully filmed. I believe the principle filming took place in Devon rather than on Guernsey, but I’ve never been to the island, and the setting was perfect. Don Roos and Tom Bezucha wrote a lovely screenplay that, of course, does not copy the book exactly. We need to stop expecting movies to do that. This is where the distance between reading and watching is essential. The book is an epistolary novel whose essence was extracted and enacted. Characters have been embellished for the screen; the story condensed, along with the theme at the heart of the book – the power of literature – which becomes a plot vehicle and more peripheral.
The film has been excessively described as “gentle,” but, I suppose, appropriately so. It was also criticized for being predictable – just how I like my romance movies. If the couple doesn’t end up a couple, well…that turns the movie into something else doesn’t it? In short, I loved the movie, I loved the casting. It was not the book, but I loved it anyway!
The second film I watched was The Book Thief . Despite numerous bad reviews, I really enjoyed this one too. Was it a severely diluted version of a beautifully written powerful book – Yes – but with the distance from reading it was a perfectly good movie in its own right with a charming performance from Sophie Nélisse as the orphan Liesel.