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There’s been a distinct loosening of literary corsets in terms of film and TV adaptations of literary works in recent years, with female Hamlets, gay characters in The Handmaid’s Tale and now black actors in Howard’s End (though in minor roles). These productions reflect the diversity of our society and bring these classics up to date.

 

But all makers of creative media works, especially visual ones, have to decide how much to mirror the context of the day.  Too much ‘modernisation’ and purists may object that the integrity of the original work has been compromised; too little, and critics will decry the irrelevance of the outcome.

The Guardian recently published an interesting review of the new adaptation of Howard’s End (broadcast BBC 1 Sunday nights at 9 pm and on iPlayer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09g9nr8) in which columnist Lucy Mangan comments that this version of Forster’s great work is “a more sober affair” than the well-known Merchant Ivory 1992 film version.

She continues: “Yet is it also it is a timely remake. Though some of the finer points of Edwardian class distinctions and propriety may elude us at this distance, the question at the core of Forster’s work of who will inherit England, has perhaps never been as relevant since he first posed it, and the introduction of non-white characters connects it more emphatically to the present.”

To read the full review, visit https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/12/howards-end-review-timely-careful-remake-class-race

 

The recent adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale was produced in close collaboration with its author, Margaret Atwood, and included several instances of divergence from the original book. But from her interviews, one senses the excitement felt by Atwood at the opportunity to revisit her dystopic world, update it and introduce elements that resonated with all viewers. The Gilead of the TV series was given the scope to identify and then persecute anyone and everyone who resisted – or even  lacked  – conformity to the rule of the male elite.  The fate of one of its lesbian characters is shocking but completely consistent with the storyline and the themes of both the production and the original.  And now the Handmaid will continue her tale and we will learn more of her fate – but from TV rather than literature.

Making words come to life is the task of film-makers and also their reward.  Relevance to the experiences of viewers themselves is crucial – if we can’t feel the agony of betrayal in Tess of the D’Urbervilles or the futility of war in War Horse, we aren’t getting the point the author intended to communicate.

Clips from Howard’s End are at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09g9nr8/clips

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