There are lots of answers, and different ways of answering the question of ‘are books always best’? And the answers to most of those various questions, would mostly be YES! However, what I’m pondering on is whether the original book is always better than the dramatic production – play, film, TV programme/series.

If I think of my favourite books, and compare them to a dramatised version, there are varied results:

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré; the TV series with Alex Guinness as George Smiley and an absolute stellar cast: stunning, stunning, stunning. The book is obviously ‘better’ because it is fuller and more complete – but there could not have been a better production… unlike the ghastly travesty of the 2011 film with Gary Oldman as Smiley. It had excellent reviews but I thought it was shocking, confusing, lacking tension, boring, dull, poorly acted (yes I know most critics would disagree with me) – I hated it
  • Pascoe and Dalziel books by Reginald Hill: there were two sets of series, one with  the comedians Hale and Pace, which was very disappointing, the second which ran for eleven series of forty-six episodes with Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan. Although I would rate the books over the Clarke/Buchanan series every time, the TV programmes were very good, and did capture something close to how I imagine the characters. The books to me are darker, funnier, more northern, and with great and unexpected endings (especially ‘On Beulah Heights’)
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – Peter Høeg: I enjoyed the film, I thought it was good, exciting, mysterious, strange – but it was nowhere near as good as the book. The book was not only a murder mystery but explored cultural aspects of Denmark, and the situation of Inuit people.
  • The Lady In The Van – Alan Bennett: the film and the book were both amazing. I have to say they were equally good, and if I had to choose, I would edge the film into first place!
  • Hercules Poirot novels and short stories by Agatha Christie: the books have to remain in pole position; of the many actors who played the part of the famous Belgian detective, only Davids Suchet properly fills the part – he was amazing…

I do just have to step out of my list, and share the number of actors who have also played the part:

Charles Laughton
Francis L. Sullivan
Austin Trevor
Orson Welles
Harold Huber
Richard Williams
José Ferrer
Martin Gabel
Tony Randall
Albert Finney
Peter Ustinov
Ian Holm
John Moffatt
Maurice Denham
Peter Sallis
Konstantin Raikin
Alfred Molina
Robert Powell
Jason Durr
Kenneth Branagh

  • Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie: as with Poirot, the novels far outshine the film and TV versions – in my opinion, only Joan Hickson came anywhere near the old lady deiscribed by Christie

… and another little deviation for the actors who have played Miss Marple:

Gracie Fields
Margaret Rutherford
Angela Lansbury
Dulcie Gray
Helen Hayes
Ita Ever
Geraldine McEwan
June Whitfield
Julia McKenzie

Why am I thinking about this… well,, over the last couple of years I have watched and enjoyed the TV series called ‘Grantchester’ based on the novels by James Runcie. I enjoy them because the village of Grantchester is just outside my home town of Cambridge, so I know it well. Also the my beloved river Cam flows through the village and is much featured in the episodes. James Runcie is a well-respected writer of factual and fictional books, a film-maker  and TV producer, and I’ve heard him interviewed several times and he seems an interesting person. I decided I would read the books on which Grantchester is based… and I have been working my way through ‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ – which is actually a collection of short stories, most of which I know from the TV programmes… Oh dear… I am finding them rather heavy going, they seem rather ponderous and long-winded, I am not exactly gripped. I will persevere, and then I will get the second novel, ‘Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night’, and see how I like that…

So to sum up:

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – yes, the book is better by a whisker, but the TV series is superb
  • Pascoe and Dalziel – yes the books are much better than the TV series, but I still quite enjoyed them
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – yes the book is much better
  • The Lady In The Van – no, the film pipped it
  • Hercules Poirot – yes the books are better
  • Miss Marple – yes the books are better
  • Grantchester – no, so far the TV series is better

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