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There have been many posts about the merits of which order to do things in for novels that have been made into movies (or TV series). These tend to concentrate on the differences in plots made to give films the required conclusions, and the excising of large chunks of plot and/or characters in the novel to fit the film into two hours.

It was a comment by Sams Still Reading on my post about the film of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen that has sparked me off on a slightly different thread to the book then movie or movie then book debate.

Question: If you see the film first and then read the book, is it possible to put aside the casting you’ve seen in the movie/TV, and imagine the characters in the novel as the author wrote them?

I’d wager that the answer is nearly always NO.

Indeed, Sam said: “I want to read the book, based mainly of my love for all things Ewan. Based on your review, I think I’ll watch him first and then read it.”  

I think if Sam does read the book, she wants to be able to imagine Ewan in it. (Do let me know if I’m wrong Sam, but frankly, who wouldn’t after seeing the film first!)

Initially I wasn’t convinced about McGregor’s casting. I had imagined Fred – Dr Jones, as a bit older, tweedier, and with glasses.  Ewan won me over though with his boyish fringe and twinkly eyes.

I can think of an occasion when this inability to re-cast characters helps though…

I was the only blogger I can think of who loved Death comes to Pemberley by PD James.  With a little hindsight, I can honestly say I wasn’t comparing it with Austen’s Pride & Prejudice at all.

I have read P&P, but what sticks in my mind, as I have seen it so many times, is the wonderful BBC production with Colin Firth as Darcy, (and I still swoon every time I see that lake scene). Consequently, I read the book as P&P series two and it worked really well on that level.   I struggled with the casting in the 2005 film though, with Keira Knightley and Matthew McFayden despite how good McFayden was in TV spy series Spooks, he wasn’t aristocratic enough as Darcy, and Knightley is a marmite actress!

The film of Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy, which I adored, was everything I had hoped for surpassing, for me, the older TV adaptation and really getting the feel of the times. All of the casting was brilliant, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smiley’s no 2, Peter Gwillam was fab, but Gary Oldman was just perfect. If I ever re-read the book I will be very happy envisioning Oldman as Smiley. His nemesis, Karla, though who was only talked about in the film will remain Patrick Stewart from the TV series. But what about the brilliant BBC R4 dramatisations with Simon Russell Beale as Smiley I hear you ask? Radio/audio in a way gives the best of both worlds – allowing you to imagine the picture, but with voices you sometimes know – but that’s another post!

It’s also fascinating when writers respond to how their characters are portrayed on the TV. Colin Dexter has said that the younger TV Lewis in the series Morse is an improvement on his original (who is older in his 60s, and Welsh).

I hope to read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie soon. It will be interesting to see if I can divorce my visions of Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens from the text – or were they the perfectly cast pair?   On the other hand, I’m looking forward to seeing the film of Never Let Me Go, a book I loved, but can I cope with Keira in this film?

Apart from having confirmed to myself the assertion I made at the start of this ramble that seeing the film inevitably colours your reading of a book in terms of the characters, it hasn’t changed my stance on book or movie first.  I’m remain a bit non-committal.  In general, I would always prefer to read the book first but, when push comes to shove, I don’t really mind either way!

Over to you now. Let me know what you think …

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To explore any of the titles mentioned on Amazon UK (affiliate link), please click below:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
Pride And Prejudice – Special Edition [DVD] – the BBC TV series.
Pride & Prejudice – 2005 [DVD] – film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFayden
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – by John Le Carré
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [DVD] – the 2011 film starring Gary Oldman
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People Double Pack [DVD] [1979] – the original TV series with Alec Guiness.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC Audio) – Radio dramatisation with Simon Russell Beale.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie [DVD] [1969] starring Maggie Smith
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) by Muriel Spark
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go (2010) [DVD] starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan

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