The English literary canon is filled with rich material just waiting to be brought to the big screen. There are so many classics that have yet to get the visual treatment, so many of which would blow contemporary TV dramas out of the water. I know what you might be thinking—many TV adaptations of literary novels tend to fall short or fail to do any justice to the source material at all. We’ve all had the experience where we eagerly await the release of a movie or miniseries adapted from one of our favorite books, only to be letdown by the finished product.
But there are those instances where directors bring real magic to the screen with miniseries and TV shows that pay homage to the literary source material. When an adaptation is done write, it makes up for all the lesser versions out there. I’m looking at you, Pride and Prejudice and Brideshead Revisited.
I’d like to that this opportunity to list some classic English works of fiction that I think would make for outstanding television. Without further ado, here are three works that place on the top of my list.
Lights, cameras, action!
It seems an outright tragedy that more people in show business haven’t utilized Chaucer’s endlessly hilarious, complex, and still current fables and tales in the iconic The Canterbury Tales. I reread many of the tales on a regular basis, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of the stories within resonate with some aspect of contemporary politics, current events, or everyday living. There’s a timelessness about Chaucer’s storytelling that makes him a pleasure to read even now.
So many of them are ready made for an on-screen treatment: The Knight’s Tale with its pomposity and high-court chivalry, The Miller’s Tale with it’s outrageous toilet humor, the riddle of The Franklin’s Tale, the clever feminist romp of The Merchant’s Tale. An ambitious director with an eye for the medieval aesthetic would be remiss to pass up such an adaptation, even if they just tell a single tale!
This complex story by Elizabeth Gaskell is a hallmark of Victorian literature. Set in the gritty industrial city of Manchester during the middle of the nineteenth century, Mary Barton follows a social web of working class families as they navigate the trials of living during such hard times. The focus of the novel is the titular character, Mary Barton, who falls into an unlikely love triangle with two men of vastly different social standings. Her struggle to find true love set against the grim circumstances of industrial living make this story an ideal candidate for a realistic and stirring period drama.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Finally there’s George Eliot’s masterpiece Middlemarch, which some English professors and writers consider to be one of the greatest works of fiction ever written about England. Middlemarch is also a Victorian novel, set in the fictional city of Middlemarch. Middlemarch got the adaptation treatment in 1994 from the BBC, but I think it’s high time that someone produced an updated version of the classic. Perhaps the next adaptation would benefit from some screenwriters who really understand how to make a great period drama for a contemporary audience—we’re looking at you, Downton Abbey writers.
Anyway, on to the actual story behind George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It involves the complex stories of a wide cast of characters, the most prominent of them bring Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, both well-meaning people who try to change the social fabric of their society for the better. They both struggle to overturn established social conventions that inhibit a large part of English society, among them women, the poor, and the working classes. It’s a sweeping narrative that’s about as dense and Victorian as they get. The nuances of the story should make it ripe material for a long TV series.
What are some works of English literature that you’d like to see in a TV adaptation? Let me know!
Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. As an education writer, she works to provide helpful information on the best online colleges and courses and welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren 99 @gmail.com.