8 Great Historical Book-to-Film Adaptations


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8 Great Book-to-Film Adaptations

By Jennifer Lewis

Whenever I hear the stereotype that women just want to sit at home on the weekend with a romantic film and a pint of ice cream, my response is usually along the lines of: “harsh but fair.” I’ve been addicted to period films my entire life, to the point where I regularly force the best adaptations onto my unsuspecting friends and family. In the spirit of unsolicited recommendations, I’ve made a list of my very favorite films and miniseries, taking care to point out the ones with the most handsome love interests (you’re welcome). Unsurprisingly, they’re all based on books, since books make everything better.

***Note: I adore Jane Austen as much as the next book lover, but the adaptations based on her work seem to overshadow everything else, so I must respectfully exclude the queen of romance and social satire from this list. Love you, Jane!***

Jane Eyre (2006 miniseries)

Let’s kick off the list with my most controversial choice! With respect to the gorgeous Michael Fassbender and his fans, Toby Stephens IS the superior Mr. Rochester. Yes, he’s much more attractive than his character is supposed to be, but I’m not complaining about that. Additionally, Ruth Wilson is heartbreaking as Jane Eyre. The part where she declares her love and her independence from Mr. Rochester had me ugly crying.

North and South (2004 miniseries)

Of all the period film adaptations, this one wins the award for the most sexual tension. That heavy breathing, though. *Clutches pearls* If you, like me, are a fan of the hate-to-love trope, this is the miniseries for you. I could watch Mr. Thornton (the handsome Richard Armitage) glare at Margaret Hale allllllllll day long.

Twelfth Night (1996 film)

This has long been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays because the film is just that good. It’s hilarious and witty, with beautiful landscapes (and the men aren’t so bad to look at either). At the risk of sounding like one of those pretentious Shakespeare enthusiasts, his work is meant to be performed--not read. And really great adaptations like this one help you understand the text without resorting to Google.

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015 film)

Bathsheba Everdene is one of classic literature’s most strong willed heroines, and the talented Cary Mulligan was the perfect choice to portray her. She made me care deeply about Bathsheba’s story, even though her arrogance and her unwillingness to recognize true love when it’s RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER FACE drives me crazy. Matthias Schoenaerts stars alongside Mulligan as the farmer Gabriel Oak in all his dreaminess.

Additionally, as a huge fan of Thomas Hardy’s novel, I can happily report that this film adaptation is extremely faithful to the text. My fellow book lovers will appreciate how rare that is.

War and Peace (2016 miniseries)

When BBC released this miniseries at the beginning of 2016, they seriously raised the stakes. The soundtrack is gorgeous, the cinematography is incredible, and the superb acting from Lily James and Paul Dano in particular will make you fall in love with Leo Tolstoy’s main characters. James Norton also graces this miniseries with his alarming good looks and masterful brooding.

Warning: if you have a heart, this adaptation will make you cry.

Howards End (2017 miniseries)

This new miniseries was only recently made available in the United States, and I’m such a fan. It’s very clever and pretty to look at with the costumes and the landscapes and the impeccably furnished homes (Seriously—they look like they’ve been done up for an Anthropologie shoot.). There’s romance, but it’s hilarious and heart-wrenching sibling dynamics that really speak to me. Margaret and Helen Schlegel are sister goals.

Daniel Deronda (2002 miniseries)

SUCH an underrated miniseries! It stars Hugh Dancy (before the world grew wise to his charm) and Romola Garai, who, for some unknown reason, is not a huge star. If you feel like period adaptations are all more or less the same these days, watch this next because the story is anything but predictable. It’s also worth watching this one just for Romola Garai’s swoon-worthy wardrobe.

Anne of Green Gables (1985 miniseries)

I won’t get into everything that sucks about the Netflix series “Anne with an E”, but that adaptation was pretty much doomed from the start because Megan Follows IS Anne Shirley and anyone who says otherwise can fight me. This miniseries (as well as its two sequels) captures the whimsical nature of L. M. Montgomery’s novel so perfectly, and watching Anne and Gilbert’s relationship develop from hate to friendship to love is everything.

There you have it, Janeites. Mr. Darcy = perfect human.

About the Author

Jennifer Lewis is an enthusiastic reader, blogger and book collector. When she's not taking photos of books, you will find her trying new restaurants, planning her next vacation, or playing with her rescue cat and dog. 

Find her here: 


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