In the past few weeks, #1 Son and I have watched two film versions of The Great Gatsby from Netflix. And both times we have been sorely disappointed in the interpretations and adaptations of a book we both love. The Redford/Farrow version was excruciatingly slow; did they forget the story is a novella? Everything had to be BIG, befitting the fame of the stars, I suppose. All the settings screamed Hollywood rather than Long Island, particularly Gatsby’s pool, which seemed to bear no physical relation to the rest of his house. Yes, we’re picky. We did love Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway. And Bruce Dern was a revelation to #1 Son. But, oh my glory, do they stretch the story out as far as possible!
The more recent version (starring Paul Rudd, Toby Stephens, Martin Donovan and Mira Sorvino as a somewhat unlikely Daisy, in my opinion) had better settings, in my opinion, and more of Fitzgerald’s beautiful words being spoken in Paul Rudd’s (Nick) voice-overs. But the music was horrific, and we got no sense that Nick ever even liked Gatsby, taking away from the moment, so poignant in the earlier film, when Nick calls out, “You’re worth the whole damn bunch of them!”
We agreed that some books really ought not be made into films. I wondered if dramatizing Gatsby might be a good Senior Thesis project for our English and Theatre double major, but we agreed, too, that the crucial car-as-plot-point might be difficult to stage fittingly.
Meanwhile, The Princess and I have been exploring versions of Emma. I am a longtime Jane Austen aficionado, and I was delighted when The Princess’ interest was sparked by the recent film of Pride & Prejudice. But how can she help it? Not only is her mother a devotee, but her paternal grandmother was an active member of the Jane Austen society, and the inscription on Miss Austen’s grave marker was a reading at her memorial service.
We began with the A&E version, starring Kate Beckinsale. I found this adaptation very satisfactory. Beckinsale had the right look, the right tone and a variety of shades in her performance. Highbury was much as I have pictured it. The supporting characters were fine, especially Samantha Morton as Miss Harriet Smith. When Mr. Knightley delivered his critique after Emma insulted Miss Bates (the extraordinary Prunella Scales), The Princess and I were stung, too! (“That was badly done, Emma! Badly done!!”)
Mr. Knightley was our favorite portrayal in our second Emma, the feature film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. As played by Jeremy Northam, he had a sense of humor not evident in Mark Strong’s Knightley. Should it be there? I’m re-reading the book in hopes of making a judgment. Worst casting choice by far: Toni Collette as Harriet Smith.
What is your experience with books gone wrong on film? Could you name one you wish you had never seen? Or an adaptation that came as a pleasant surprise? Use the comments here to answer, or link back to your blog if you feel so moved.