A couple of Monday Musings ago I shared some of my favourite Australian films adapted from novels. Today, it’s the turn of Aussie plays. I’m no expert in adapting works but it seems to me that it would be easier to adapt a play to film than it would be a novel. I wonder if that’s true in reality? Does anyone know?
Anyhow, here are some of my favourite Australian films that had their genesis in theatre:
- Don’s Party (1976) is one of many plays written by satirist David Williamson that have been adapted to film, and I have enjoyed most of those I’ve seen. I’ve chosen Don’s Party because it was one of the first. The play was written in 1971 and is set during a post-election party held by Don for his Australian Labor Party friends. They expect their party to win but things don’t quite go to plan, and tensions develop. The film was directed by prolific Australian director, Bruce Beresford. It beautifully but rather excruciatingly captures the new educated, socially mobile middle class, their (our!) pretensions and the gap between reality and their dreams.
- Breaker Morant (1980) is one of my favourite Australian films from our film renaissance of the 1970s to early 80s, partly because I am a bit of a fan of courtroom dramas and this is a good one! The film was adapted from a play (first produced in 1978) by a playwright I don’t know, Kenneth G. Ross, and was directed by Bruce Beresford. (Told you he was prolific!). The subject is the court-martial of Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant and two other officers for murders during the Boer War. The film plays to an historical tension between the colonial Aussies and the colonist Brits, as well as to Australians’ reputation for larrikinism or anti-authoritarianism, and it makes a strong anti-war case. It starred Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson – and, writing about it now, makes me want to see it again.
- Lantana (2001) was adapted from the play, Speaking in tongues, by Andrew Bovell. It’s a tense drama centred around a murder, but it’s less a crime story than an exploration of relationships and trust/betrayal. The film was directed by Ray Lawrence. It has a moody atmosphere and an insistent soundtrack (composed by Paul Kelly) that makes it hard to forget.
- Blessed (2009) was adapted from the play, Who’s afraid of the working class?, written by Andrew Bovell (again), Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas (author of The Slap) and Irene Vela. The playwrights, with the exception of Vela, also wrote the film script. As I wrote in my review on this blog, it’s a gritty exploration of mothers and their often neglected children.
There are many other Australian films adapted from plays, including several by Williamson, The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (from Ray Lawler’s classic play of the same name), and The Sum of Us (from a play by David Stevens, who also wrote the filmscript for Breaker Morant!).
When films are adapted from books, we often know because the books tend to be republished (often with a movie image on its cover). The movies provide a great opportunity for books to get another airing. With plays, though, its a different situation. We don’t, as a rule, read plays and we often don’t know, I suspect, whether a film has been based on a play or not (even if it has the same title).
How often are you aware of the theatrical origin of films you like, and do you have any favourite films that are based on plays?
(BTW, My next post on the topic of adaptations will be on television adaptations.)