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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 13:46 GMT
Making films by the book
Last Orders is adapted from Graham Swift's Booker-winning novel
Last Orders is adapted from Graham Swift's novel
New movie Last Orders is the latest of a new batch of high-profile films based on novels. BBC News Online looks at the successes and failures of books adapted for the big screen.

Hollywood has always plundered the literary world for great stories to turn into films, but the film-making fraternity is currently undergoing a revival in its affair with the novel.

Not only have The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter provided a boost for film studios' coffers - and will continue to do so for the next few years - but a string of movies inspired by more "serious" literature are on their way.

The results often infuriate fans of the books, who are heard complaining that the film is not as good - but the movies can bring authors new fans and kudos, not to mention money.

Graham Swift
Swift: "The page will always be bigger than the screen"
Among the imminent batch of literature-inspired films is Last Orders, based on Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel, and starring Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone.

Swift, who turned down the offer to write the script, recently said the finished movie "ain't half bad" - but that novels will always have more appeal.

"For me, the page will always be bigger than the screen," he wrote in the Observer newspaper.

"The book was there first and is there now. Its curious that the film industry, more than a century old and often big and brash about itself, still needs and feeds off books."

Another forthcoming release, The Shipping News, was originally written by E Annie Proulx. Director Lasse Hallstrom's version has earned a Golden Globe nomination for actor Kevin Spacey.

Kate Winslet:
Kate Winslet: "A film doesn't work unless it's got a good story"
The film has been praised as a "mildly uplifting odyssey" by the New York Times, although the newspaper said it abandons the "robust, idiosyncratic" language that made the novel a success.

Sebastian Faulks' Charlotte Gray may have been a bestseller in 1990, but the film version, which will star Cate Blanchett, has already been described as "a bore" by the Los Angeles Times and "bland and dour" by Variety magazine.

Iris is another film to be inspired by the world of literature, although it is not adapted from late novelist Iris Murdoch's works of fiction, but her husband John Bayley's memoirs.

Kate Winslet, who stars as the young Iris, says it does not matter where the idea for a film comes from, as long as it is a good one.

"A film doesn't work unless it's got a good story and unless it's got a good script," she said. "And there are some great novels in this world."

James Bond was created by author Ian Fleming
James Bond was created by author Ian Fleming
Anthony Minghella, whose English Patient was based on Michael Ondaatje's novel and went on to win nine Oscars, agrees.

"There are some terrible aphorisms flying around Hollywood - 'only bad books make good movies' - and there's very little interest in literature in Hollywood," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There's only interest in stories."

Some of the most famous stories in screen history are now more famous than the books they first appeared in.

James Bond was originally a dreamed up by author Ian Fleming, Dr Hannibal Lecter came from the imagination of Thomas Harris and more people now associate Gone with the Wind with Vivien Leigh than Margaret Mitchell.

And some of the most successful films have transformed obscure novels into screen hits.

The Silence of the Lambs: Originally a Thomas Harris novel
The Silence of the Lambs: Originally a Thomas Harris novel
The Godfather started life as a trashy novel by Mario Puzo, and studio bosses first envisaged it as little more than a B-movie.

Blade Runner, meanwhile, was based on Philip K Dick's cult Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

But, conversely, a great novel does not always make a great film.

Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities was regarded as one of the novels of the 1980s - but audiences decided that magic had disappeared by the time it reached the screen, despite the presence of Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis.

And Dead Babies, originally an acclaimed novel by Martin Amis, was one of the flops of the year when it reached the screen in 2001.

Last Orders is showing in London now and goes nationwide a week later. Iris is released on 18 January, Charlotte Gray on 22 February and The Shipping News on 1 March.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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Star of Last Orders says he did not read the book
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"Time to sit back and wait for the Oscars"
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