From page to screen in 2016

From page to screen in 2016

By Ashleigh James

03 Feb 2016

2016 offers a rich influx of literary adaptations for the big screen, presenting us with the age-old dilemma of whether to read the book first . . . However, judgement will not be passed if you dive straight into the film adaptation of some of these – 2016’s collection of corkers are too good to miss.

Two highly anticipated films from the literary world are the adaptations of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Two very different yarns, but each equally brimming with interest for book and film lovers alike. Here’s some more information on their page-to-screen renovation . . .

The Girl on the Train

British author Paula Hawkins’ debut novel The Girl on the Train has undoubtedly been one of the most successful books of 2015. Described by many as the next Gone Girl (magnanimous praise enough), Hawkins’ novel stayed on the top spot of the New York Times Fiction Bestsellers List for 13 consecutive weeks. Its influence reached far and wide; even my own mother read it. The story follows 32-year-old Rachel Watson who, recently jobless and husband-less, finds herself in a depressive state of alcoholism and loneliness. She slowly becomes embroiled within an obsessional fascination with a couple whom she encounters each day on her London train commute; Rachel becomes fixated, imagining their lives and fabricating their names and identities. The unfolding story involves a complex intertwining plot of harassment, affair and murder. Definitely not the mundane weekday commute.

From Page to Screen

The film adaptation will be directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) with screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson (The Secretary) – so, nice firm credentials there. And the actors? The central protagonist role of Rachel, as much publicised, will be played by Brit-turned-American Emily Blunt. Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Justin Theroux, Luke Evans (The Hobbit) and Hayley Bennett will also star. The story is told from the viewpoint of the three central female characters, the book itself being an exploration into the layers and complexities of various different perspectives and timescales; even the book’s cover page cleverly depicts this blurred multi-perspective. It will therefore be very interesting to see how this intricate narrative stance pans out on screen. To add to the confusion (or indeed interest), our main protagonist, Rachel, is a drunk – her reliability as a narrator? Not strong. Rachel’s own disorientated and jaded perception will also need to somehow be transposed onto screen. Her lose grasp on reality along with her drunken flashbacks, however, are sure to make a gripping psychological thriller and take viewers on an intriguing journey of suspense, revelation and, no doubt, rail travel.

Some Niggles

The film is being relocated to the USA, replacing London with New York – quite irritating for any Londoners who, like me, enjoy seeing their familiar city fictionalised on screen. Also, Emily Blunt does not seem to entirely fit within the demographic of an overweight and somewhat unattractive female, as Hawkins portrays Rachel to be; but that’s Hollywood for you. The less-than-perfect female character on page becomes unashamedly glossed over by the sweeping tide of silver-screen glamour. Although, it should be said that some lengths have been taken to suggest the physical and mental decline of Rachel’s character – if the photographs of Blunt on set are anything to go by, it seems that the costume and make-up designers have reddened her face up a little to resemble an on-going alcoholic binge, and have dressed her in a large, lumpy grey duffle coat to perhaps hint at the presence of excess weight. It is true, at least, that Blunt is not made to look her best in this film.

The Girl on the Train is to be released in the UK on 7th October 2016.

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book is the 1894 short story collection by Rudyard Kipling which introduced us to the charms of anthropomorphised characters such as beguiling black panther Bagheera, big-hearted bear Baloo and hypnotic Indian python Kaa. Kipling’s use of animals in the style of moral fable is part of a strong literary tradition ranging from Aesop’s Fables to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, highlighting the fates and foibles of mankind. It seems that the animal–human amalgamation is a notion which continues to teach and entertain to this day; so much so that not one, but two blockbuster adaptations will be made of Kipling’s classic over the next two years.

The Disney Classic

The Jungle Book has been frequently adapted throughout the years, but perhaps most famously by Disney in their 1967 musical animation; there is, then, perhaps a slight comfort in the fact that Disney will once again be the bearers of Kipling’s classic for 2016. However, the upcoming release seems to be a rather distant relation to the all-singing, all-dancing 1967 animated classic remembered from our childhoods, where the songs ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ have become unanimous with Mowgli and his jungle explorations. The 2016 Jungle Book is described as a ‘live action/CGI adventure fantasy’ and can probably promise all the multifarious screen extravaganzas that featured in Disney’s 2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yet it seems that director John Favreu (Iron Man), although pulling out the big guns in terms of a modern-fantasy blockbuster, still aims to retain the nostalgic essence of the ’67 Disney classic, claiming; "Although it’s not a musical, we wanted to work in the more memorable moments from the ’67 film . . . How do you not do that?" It seems that Favreu’s artistic influence derives just as much from the 1967 animation as it does from Kipling’s original text.

Another Jungle Book?

The 2016 release of The Jungle Book is not to be confused with Jungle Book: Origins, which is to be released the following year and will star Benedict Cumberbatch as Mowgli’s notorious enemy, bengali tiger Shere Khan. One can likely expect a Smaug-esque snarl for Cumberbatch’s Khan – in fact the director of Jungle Book: Origins, Andy Serkis, was second unit director on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series, so would be particularly familiar with Cumberbatch’s flare as a nefarious, sharp tongued creature with a penchant for revenge.  It is, however, the equally reputable Idris Elba who will voice Khan in Favreu’s 2016 version. Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley will offer their dulcet tones for Baloo and Bagheera respectively, and Mowgli will be portrayed by Hollywood new-comer Neel Sethi, who is the only actor in the film to bring both voice and physical acting to the role, the other characters relying on the bank-busting CGI animations of Disney to visually construct their on-screen presence. Both adaptations promise to be stellar interpretations of Kipling’s invention and will offer fresh cultural invigoration to the timeless tale of man’s interaction with nature.

The Jungle Book is to be released in the UK on 15th April 2016.

Other 2016 literary films to look out for…

 - Seth Grahame Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – directed by Burr Steers, this radical re-imagining of Austen’s classic stars Matt Smith (Dr. Who) and Lily James (Cinderella).

 - J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Eddie Redmayne becomes the pre-Potter wizard and magical beast enthusiast, Newt Scamander. 

 - Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass – Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice film made so much money that he and Disney are making another one.

 - Dan Brown’s Inferno – Tom Hanks returns to the role of symbology professor Robert Langdon and stars alongside Felicity Jones.

 - Roald Dahl’s The BFG – Steven Spielberg teams up again with the formidable Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) in this highly anticipated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic.