Apple Tree Yard has been on the BBC for the last few weeks and I’ve finally caught up on iPlayer. The TV adaptation of Louise Doughty’s novel about a geneticist’s extra-marital affair sucked me in by the end of the first episode, and like the binge-watching addict that I am, I went straight on to episode two. What could be a familiar story, a woman who finds herself unexpectedly attracted to a man who isn’t her husband, takes some dark and unpredictable turns. I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea what’s waiting in episode three, but watching the series made me think of other small screen adaptations over the years that have made me want to read books I’ve never heard of, or already decided weren’t for me. Here are nine more:
Do you remember life before Poldark? I find it hard to recollect a time when the brooding Cornish soldier wasn’t staring mournfully off into the sea. I was living in Cornwall when they were filming, and when the first series was released. Extras were cast from my university, and having no idea what Poldark was and no interest, I never auditioned. What a fool I was. I was instantly hooked on the love triangle between Ross, his cousin and his childhood sweetheart. Then somehow it became a square and Demelza became my favourite character. I’ve wanted to read it since.
I probably wouldn’t have watched The Outcast if it wasn’t for my family’s habitual bonding sessions in front of the TV most evenings. No wonder I’m so addicted. The Outcast was Sadie Jones’ debut novel, and tells the story of ten-year-old Lewis who witnesses his mother’s sudden death. Her death shatters his idyllic childhood and Lewis grows into a troubled teen. He finds a kindred spirit in Kit Carmichael. Both are abused by their fathers in different ways and feel desperately alone because of it. Lewis felt like such a real character, you could see why he acted out, and at times I wanted to burn the world with him.
An adaptation of L.P Hartley’s The Go Between was broadcast on BBC in 2015 (I’m realising that most of the adaptations on this list are, in fact, BBC productions. Well done, BBC). The love affair of a young woman from a wealthy family and a local farmer is told from the perspective of a young boy who becomes their secret messenger. The little boy who played Leo was flawless.
The Last Kingdom
I wouldn’t have ever pegged myself as a reader of historical fiction around the Danish and Saxon power struggle in Britain, but having watched the first series of The Last Kingdom, I may have to reconsider. The son of a Saxon lord is taken captive by a Danish warrior and brought up among the Danes. As a man, Uhtred is determined to reclaim his father’s title, but his allegiance to his Danish family and the Saxon people complicates his plans. The second series adapted from Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories is coming onto TV soon.
Under the Greenwood Tree
The music of this TV adaptation brings so much joy to my heart. I tried to find it for weeks but to no avail. Luckily, I have the DVD so I can at least enjoy it whenever I’m re-watching (which is often). Under the Greenwood Tree might be the only Thomas Hardy novel with a happy ending. It was adapted for TV in 2005, TWELVE YEARS AGO, and an eleven year old me watched it and fell in love. I watched it twice the week it was aired. I became a little bit obsessed with James Murray after that (I’ve calmed down now, its fine). Dick Dewey and Fancy Day’s romance is set in a quiet country village, but the industrial revolution is looming. Worried about his educated daughter falling into poverty, Fancy’s father forbids the match and encourages her to accept the affections of a wealthy farmer, Mr. Shinar. Torn between her feelings and her obligations to her father, Fancy is uncertain whether she can tolerate life in a small village at all. I literally love this so much that writing about it makes me want to watch it again.
I binge-watched Season 1 of Outlander, hard. It was an intense week and a half for me but I regret nothing. Clare Randall, a field nurse, is reconnecting with her husband in the Scottish highlands. The war kept them apart for five years but time isn’t the only thing that has separated them. While trying to navigate their way back to the relationship they once had, Clare stumbles upon ancient standing stones and is catapulted back to 1743. The TV series is so good, but it’s also a faithful representation of the book (which I read afterwards). Clare is such a fierce character but she has her flaws too. I want to mention Jaime too but I think I’ll just give the game away if I start talking about him too. Diana Gabaldon has created captivating characters.
North and South
I never watched Cranford (I probably should have), but I did watch North and South, a TV adaptation of another of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels. It’s what made me want to pick up one of her books in the first place. Since then I’ve read North and South, Wives and Daughters, and Mary Barton. I loved them all. North and South tells the story of a young woman who is transported from her idyllic life in Helston to the hard and unforgiving industrial town of Milton after her father resigns from the clergy. In Milton, Margaret meets Mr. Thornton, a successful mill owner. He seems as austere as the town he resides in, but there may be more to him. I’m a sucker for this sort of love story but the discourse between the workers and the mill owners was also interesting. It’s easy to see where misunderstanding and ignorance can lead to animosity.
Sense & Sensibility
There was a time before I’d read a Jane Austen novel. I know, I still can’t believe it myself. The BBC ran adaptions of Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Sense & Sensibility when I was about thirteen or fourteen and although I was wrapped up in them all, Sense & Sensibility was my favourite. The three Dashwood girls and their mother move from their estate to a small cottage after the death of their father. Despite their half-brother’s promise to look after them, he offers them no support. His shrewd wife is eager to keep hold of every penny. Before the Dashwood girls depart for their new home, their sister-in-law’s brother comes to stay, and become an unexpected comfort. The Dashwood sisters are all their own characters but I was particularly drawn to Eleanor. She’s responsible, hard-working and always makes the most of things. Before Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens made a brilliant Edward Ferrars.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger were electric as the two surprising lovers in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. All I knew of D. H. Lawrence’s book before the TV adaptation was that it was controversial, and my grandmother was still scandalised by it. I was surprised to find that although the story was about sexual awakening, it was also about isolation, entrapment, and the social classes. Watching the story unfold on screen made me want to buy a copy of the book, which I did.