We’re not all book people.
In fact, there’s really no shame in preferring the visual arts to reading.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re sometimes able to enjoy a film better, or gain a better understanding of the underlying message and meaning when we’ve already read the book first.
Let’s take a look at 5 popular British period dramas that are best watched after reading the book. And if you’re really not a book person, you might find it easier reading on an e-book device… they actually don’t cost all that much anymore, especially if you use voucher codes or other types of online deals.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
However, from the series alone, it’s hard to understand exactly why Darcy has the infamous reputation he has. The movie, of course, focused heavily on Darcy — it was the Darcy and Elizabeth story — and we get a massively well-rounded story of his character, and an understanding of his pain which humanised him entirely.
With the bookmaking Darcy much more of a secondary character, especially early on, our understanding of the character is limited, with Darcy’s arrogance really shining through and leaving readers with absolutely no doubt why Elizabeth wasn’t falling at his feet.
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)
Another Colin Firth movie makes a list here, and while Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is technically a play, not a book, it’s well worth a mention.
This, of course, is a play about social obligation; about the egotistical behaviours and religious hypocrisy that was rife in Victorian England… and Wilde never hesitates to satirise these aspects on practically every page.
Miss Prism and Reverend Chasuble were hugely valuable tools for delivering this satire and mocking the pompous practices of the time (their names being a dead giveaway), yet their much smaller roles in the 2002 film compared to the play mean that this satire doesn’t quite shine through in the same way which really is a big shame.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
While the 2008 book and the 2018 film were both exceptional (and it’s no secret that many people actually prefer the film version!), reading the book before watching the movie is highly recommended.
It’s not that the book is better or more in-depth or more exciting… it’s more than the letter format serves to remind you that the story is based almost exclusively on the correspondence between Juliet and Dawsley.
There’s obviously a bit of artistic licence taken with the film to give a more well-rounded picture which is why many people do prefer the movie, but without having read the book first, it can be very easy to forget that the entire basis of the story, and the romance, is letter writing. Nothing more. Nothing less.
On Chesil Beach (2017)
Without having read the book first, the entire situation that’s experienced between Edward and Florence seems somewhat of a farce in the film.
It was much more subtle and tastefully done in the book, and this helps us to understand the emotions of the couple better; it’s more realistic, and we can resonate more. Take the restaurant scene, for example.
In the book, the tension, terror, and foreboding is characterised by the ‘swollen stalks’ of the plants with their ‘dark, thick-veined leaves’… In the film, it’s done through what can only be described as a slapstick parody, with a spilled bottle of wine by two mocking waiters trying to convey the same emotion and same sense of dread, worry, and trepidation.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (2009)
Finishing the list with another of Oscar Wilde’s plays, the 2009 film of The Picture of Dorian Gray was undoubtedly enjoyable, but it did receive mixed reviews, and if you’ve read the play you’ll know why.
Dorian is shallow, of course, he is, but he’s also so incredibly passionate about the thing he likes. In the play, he’s instinctively drawn to Sibyl playing Juliet and returns each night. He eventually loses interest in which may be a weak reason overall but which was an important reason for him: she loses her art. In the film, there’s no such reason.
In fact, Dorian is simply portrayed as a bit of a tramp falling for any pretty girl in front of him. Shallowness is vital to the story, yet the film overlooks the deeper side to Dorian.