What Makes a Good Movie Adaptation of a Classic Book?

What Makes a Good Movie Adaptation of a Classic Book?

What Makes a Good Movie Adaptation of a Classic Book?

What Makes a Good Movie Adaptation of a Classic Book?

One of my favorite directors who has taken classic literature and brought it onto the silver screen is Kenneth Branagh and his productions of several of Shakespeare’s plays.  Branagh dares to set the stories in entirely the wrong time period, in the wrong country, even, and yet I love his productions.

Why?  Because he seems to understand the SPIRIT of the play, and he successfully translates that SPIRIT into the setting he chooses for his production.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Branagh has changed the time period and the setting (and there is some really atrociously bad acting on the part of Keanu Reeves), but the spirit of the story is intact — as I watch (just as when I read the Bard’s words) I am reminded to laugh at myself as a human whose brain gets muddled when matters of the heart are involved.

Sometimes we are so busy trying to make sure that our children are paying attention to all the FACTS of the book that we forget to encourage them to take a giant step back and appreciate the spirit of the thing.  Ask some questions like these, and they will get more out of their reading experience:

* Which character(s) really grabs you in this story?  What is it about him/her that affects you strongly?

* What is it about the setting of this story that allows you to relate to it?  If you’ve never lived in that time period (that country, that experience, etc.), why do you feel like you connect with the characters there anyway?

* Put yourself in this character’s shoes:  what is the answer to his/her dilemma?

* Did this story end in a way that was satisfying to you?  Did you LIKE the ending?  Is it possible to find an ending satisfying even if you don’t actually like it?  Why?

If you have read a book with your homeschooler and then decide to watch a movie adaptation, push yourself beyond the obvious discussion after the closing credits have rolled.  Sure, ask if the movie was true to the plot, the characters, the details of the story.  But then ask the deeper questions:

* Did the movie seem to communicate the same life-lessons that I got when I read the book?

* Did I relate to the same characters, or was I alienated from characters with whom I had connected from the book because of a different understanding of them that the director and actor seemed to have?

* Did the movie inspire me (frighten me, warm my heart, anger me, etc.) the way the book did?  Why or why not?

One way to enjoy movies AND literature is to take a different approach for a year with 7Sisters’ popular Cinema Studies for Literature Learning. With this course, students learn literature themes and thinking in actual movies. Download your copy for a successful literature year.

Literature Analysis, Literal Thinkers and Movies
Click here for more information.


7Sisters email subscribers receive periodic practical encouragement, special offers and NO SPAM EVER.

Sign Up for 7SistersHomeschool.com Emails
Click the image above to periodically receive real homeschool value in your inbox.

What Makes a Good Movie Adaptation of a Classic Book?



Sabrina Justison

20+ year homeschool mom and curriculum developer for 7SistersHomeschool.com. Fred's wife. Writing, drama, music, blogs, kids, shoes, coffee, & books in varying orders on various days. He is God, He is good & He loves me.

7 Replies to “What Makes a Good Movie Adaptation of a Classic Book?”

  1. Seabiscuit – only movie that I can think of that is better than the book (neither is this great literature)

    Les Miserable – 1958 version Jean Gabin as Jean Valjean – of course, I am trusting an English translation of a French book anyway, so why not enjoy the movie translation

    The Scarlet Pimpernel – 1934

    The A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, and I was shocked to actually like the newer, shorter version that came out a few years ago.

    I would love for someone to study the effect of having read the book prior to the seeing the movie and vice versa. Do I always think that the book is better because I read that first?

    • Yes, I loved Seabiscuit…..okay, truth is I never read the book. But now I will so I can say whether the movie caught the spirit of the book or not!

      I suppose even MENTIONING the musical version of Les Miserables is inappropriate here…but I do think it captures the spirit, so I’m going to mention it. If you can stand people bursting into song for two hours, I find the musical version to be a beautiful interpretation of the spirit of the book.

  2. Much Ado is one of my favorites of all time. Love the singer, “Sigh no more…”. It taught my kids Shakespeare first, then we read the plays. (Interestingly, later, my 14 year old was able to identify that verse when the Mumfords put it in a song.) (There is one bath scene Branaugh added at the beginning we always skip over…)

    Many of the old Disney movies were great books first. (Again, we saw the movies first.) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Old Yeller, etc.

    One of my ALLLLL time favorites from a book is Friendly Persuasion with Gary Cooper.

    • Oh, the bath scene! Forgot about that…thanks for warning folks! By the time the opening credits are over, everyone has their clothes back on. I’m not sure if he’s just asserting his European-ness, or what!

      Hooray for Friendly Persuasion!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *