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TV Adaptations: Bringing Classics Into the 21st Century?

We all love a good film, but when it comes to book-to-screen adaptations, TV is beginning to take centre stage. This means longer run times and a more detailed plot – but are these shows making our favourite texts more accessible, or is the message getting lost in translation?

Invasion and Revolution

H. G. Wells and Victor Hugo are two very distinct authors with few similarities to speak of. Yet two of their most popular works, The War of the Worlds and Les Misérables respectively, have recently been adapted for TV by the BBC.

Both works have seen their fair share of adaptation over the years; for film and stage to name but a few. The War of the Worlds was even adapted for radio on one memorable occasion in 1938 that left American audiences terrified that a real alien invasion was taking place.

However, there has always been much controversy as to the validity of such adaptations, for as in order to condense the story to a reasonable length, at least some of the source material is always lost. However, for novels such as Les Misérables, which clocks in at an impressive 1463 pages, fitting that much material into a few hours is nigh-on impossible.

This is why making a TV programme is so effective – creators can spread the story out across as many episodes as they like, rather than having to squeeze the entire plot into a two-hour film. This is perhaps where TV has the advantage over film, because writers have more time to play with to add all the necessary extra details that give the story a bit of extra flare.

Help or Hindrance?

Of course, there’s always the conern that showing the programme in class might cause students to avoid reading the book. In that case, why not try showing it at a steady pace over the course of study, rewarding certain milestones with an episode? It makes for a good incentive to keep going, after all.

However, there are so many ways in which these shows can be beneficial. If you don’t want to employ an incentive strategy, then they also work well as an introduction to the texts. The visual stimuli can help to engage students, giving them a better overall understanding of the story as well as helping them to visualise what they read. This is definitely something to consider given that The War of the Worlds was written in 1898, so naturally the language is quite antiquated, and students might initially struggle to balance an understanding of the writing with an understanding of the story.

Alternatively, shows like could be used as a revision tool, as they often provide a good overview of the text that will keep the story fresh in their minds.

The TV series for The War of the Worlds had no set broadcast date at the time of publishing this, but you can check out Les Misérables here!

Of course, seeing as we’re discussing adaptations, the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is also available on BBC iPlayer at the moment.

How do you feel about TV adaptations? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @ERAresources – we’d love to hear what you think!