October 1, 2018

Autumn is upon us, which means it is BBTVA (Big Book TV Adaptation) season!


Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’ – still sharp today.

WARNING: [extremely mild] Killing Eve spoilers ahead

And so, after the longest, hottest, most waistcoat-wearingest Summer any of us can remember, Autumn is finally making itself known. Long shadows, crispy leaves, the faint smell of woodsmoke permeating the morning sky… we won’t see any of it. Because we will be inside reading. And when we’re not reading? We will be watching all the TV adaptations of books, duh. It’s getting cold out there, and there’s soup to eat. So settle in, snuggle down with your soft furnishing of choice, and allow me to guide you through the literary small-screen delights on offer this season.

The pick of the bunch, as you may have already twigged, is Killing Eve (BBC America / BBC iPlayer), based on Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, and adapted for the screen by Fleabag mastermind Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Frankly I wouldn’t be offended if you stopped reading this article right now and watched (or re-watched, as I will be doing) the whole series. Liverpool-based Jodie Comer–as the charismatic, city-hopping, flamboyantly violent assassin Villanelle–delivers one of the most unforgettable performances of recent times; love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it. And Sandra Oh, one of this generation’s most consistently brilliant actresses, puts in a career-best turn as a gutsy MI5 operative–the titular Eve–who, after being unceremoniously fired, is drafted on to a special unit tasked with tracking Villanelle – and The Twelve, her shadowy employers. It goes about as well as can be expected. Anyway Killing Eve is dynamic and gory and funny and compulsively addictive, and I command you to watch it. You can read Comer’s Evening Standard interview with Hamish MacBain and Alistair Foster here, and there’s a trailer too.

Also on the air at the moment is ITV’s big-budget, ‘All Along the Watchtower’-featuring adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray‘s 1848 masterpiece of social skulduggery, Vanity FairOlivia Cooke has been presented with the extremely difficult task of bringing Becky Sharp to life, and she is ably assisted by an all-star cast including Anthony Stewart HeadMartin Clunes, Michael Palin and Simon Russell Beale. For all of its modernising, this latest Vanity Fair is, in essence, a straightforward retelling – but then, when the source material is so good, why bother messing things up? This Radio Times article by Eleanor Bley Griffiths gives a fine overview of the series.

Looking further ahead to Christmas, the BBC have adaptations of John Le Carré‘s The Little Drummer Girl premiering in November, and there’s a new version of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders in the offing, too. Not only that, but speculative fiction pioneer and, ahem, Melville House author H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds is being given a big-budget update starring Eleanor Tomlinson (of Poldark fame), and Rafe Spall.

And as if ALL THAT wasn’t enough, the much-vaunted Netflix / BBC animated reboot of Richard Adams‘ 1972 cunicular adventure Watership Down, starring John Boyega among others, looks like it will finally be emerging from its burrow later this year. Yes, you did just read that last sentence.

All this got me thinking – which Melville House book would I like to see receiving the studio treatment? The answer, as it so often is, is Lars Iyer‘s Spurious trilogy. I’ll leave you to to imagine that. And why not get in touch with other ideas? We’d love to hear from you – that is, if you’re not too distracted by Villanelle’s latest spree…

Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.