Today’s Monday Musings is the third in my series on filmed adaptations of Aussie literature, though this time I’m talking television adaptations. The television adaptation of books – mostly into miniseries – has become big business over the last few decades. You only have to look at the BBC and the success it’s had with the so-called bonnet dramas to know that.
A miniseries seems to me to be a more natural form for novel adaptations than movies, if only because the additional length offered by the miniseries caters for more character and plot development. It’s not only for its wet shirt scene that the 1995 adaptation of Pride and prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is so beloved!
Anyhow, here are some of my favourite Australian television series that were adapted from novels*:
- A Town Like Alice (1981) was one of my favourite novels of my teen years – that and anything by Jane Austen, not to mention Voss from my late teens. Written by Nevil Shute, it’s a wartime romance on a grand scale about English rose Jean Paget, her experience as a prisoner-of-war in Malaya, her initial not always harmonious meeting with Aussie bloke Joe Harmon, and her post-war life in the Aussie outback. We “colonials” loved the idea of an Englishwoman preferring life with a dinkum Aussie bloke to one with the toffs over the sea! Mythmaking perhaps, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of that every now and then!
- Harp in the South (1986) was based on the novel of the same name by Ruth Park about whom I’ve written before on this blog. The book was another teen favourite of mine. Published in 1948, it’s a gritty realistic though sympathetic novel set in the slums of Sydney and is one of several books by Park that dealt with “battlers”. It’s some time since I’ve seen the series but I recollect that it effectively conveyed the world of the novel that Park created.
- My Brother Jack (1965 and 2001) was adapted from the Miles Franklin Award winning novel of the same name by George Johnston. Published in 1964, it is the first of a trilogy, and is regarded as an Australian classic. The 1965 adaptation was written by Johnston’s wife, Charmian Clift, but if I’ve seen it I don’t recollect it. I did however see the 2001 adaptation. I enjoyed its depiction of between the wars Australia, and its exploration of Aussie masculinity through the uneducated, hardworking Jack as seen by his educated, more obviously successful but less happy journalist brother.
- The Slap (2010) was adapted from Christos Tsiolkas‘ Miles Franklin Award winning novel of the same name. This is a multiple point of view novel with each chapter being told from a different character’s point of view. It’s not always sensible for adaptations to follow the style and structure of the original but in this case the producers did, and it worked well. It was gripping viewing.
- Cloudstreet (2011) was also adapted from the Miles Franklin Award winning novel of the same name, but this time by Tim Winton. It’s a big novel in which realism and something more magical are used to tell the story of two families who find themselves sharing a house at no. 1 Cloud Street. The adaptation did a wonderful job of capturing what is a complex novel with a large cast of characters and spanning several decades. The script, the visuals, the music work together to create something accessible but thought-provoking at the same time.
Interestingly, all of the above adaptations used the same title as their original novel. I guess there’s a good reason for that! And the last three were all based on Miles Franklin Award winning novels. Anyhow, these are just a few of the many Aussie novel television adaptations … there are way too many, and many that I’ve enjoyed, to discuss here – such as Nancy Cato‘s All the rivers run, the audiobook of which I am currently listening to.
Do you watch television adaptations of favourite novels? And if so, do you have favourites?
* Some of these books have also been adapted for film, but I am only focussing on the television versions here.