4x4th Estate: Love in Film Adaptations

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Picador)

‘You have my whole heart. You always did.’

the road bookthe road film

Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road was adapted for the screen in 2009, and directed by John Hillcoat. An unnamed cataclysmic event ruptures the world of the story, leaving father and son to survive an unrelenting nuclear winter in post-apocalyptic America. The Road, in both fiction and film, centres on the love between this father and son, known only as The Man and The Boy. Their relationship survives as the only evidence that without love, there is nothing. The pair speak of ‘carrying the fire’; this metaphorical flame represents the value of love, language, and the sacrifice necessary to endure chaos. The film depicts McCarthy’s American wasteland beautifully, using a stripped-bare palette of greys and browns. However, it does lack the emotional intensity that pushes through each line of McCarthy’s prose. Terror and beauty exist alongside one another, making The Road a disturbing and compelling tale. This adaptation received generally positive reviews, earning a 75% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (4th Estate)

 virgin suicides bookvirgin suicides film

‘It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them’

The Virgin Suicides, based on the novel of the same name by American writer Jeffrey Eugenides, was released in 1999, and directed by Sophia Coppola. The story takes place in Grosse Pointe, Michigan during 1974 and focuses on the lives of the five Lisbon sisters. In the novel, and its cinematic counterpart, love is portrayed as an obsessive and overbearing quality that leads to devastation and ruin. This haunting, dreamlike story is narrated twenty years in the future; with each of the girls lives having been preserved in the memories of the young boys infatuated with them. The girls appear to exist only as objects of masculine desire, fusing love and lust in a darkly humorous narrative. With an impressive cast including James Woods and Kathleen Turner, this directorial debut received positive reviews. Coppola was praised for playing the story in ‘a minor key’ and portrayed elements of the film with a freedom that undercuts the bleakness of the narrative. This film also obtained a 76% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Bloomsbury)

 english patient bookenglish patient film

‘Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again’

Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient was brought to the screen in 1996. The film, directed by Anthony Minghella, is a powerful example of successful literary to film adaptation. The nonlinear tale depicts the life of a patient literally consumed by fire; a man who has been burned during the war and scarred beyond recognition. The patient is tended to by a nurse named Hana and confides in her the secrets of his turbulent romantic past. This nurturing relationship is mirrored with Hana’s own emotional journey in love, providing an exquisite examination of lives in love ravaged by periods of war. As the highest rated film on our list, The English Patient was met with widespread critical acclaim, winning nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The film has also received a score of 7.4 on IMDb, and a rating of 83% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

 atonement bookatonement film

‘In a story you only had to wish, you only had to write it down and you could have the world’

In 2007, six years after Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name was originally published, Atonement was adapted for the screen by director Joe Wright. The novel is brought to life with compelling performances from James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Saoirse Ronan – even featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in a less than charismatic role. One summer afternoon in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis looks from a window in her family home. She sees something at the fountain in the garden; a moment of passion passing between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant on the estate. Briony’s young mind, unable to interpret this adult interaction, fabricates a tale that will change the course of their lives forever. This is among the highest rated adaptations on our list, with seven Academy Award nominations; winning the Oscar for Best Original Score. The film also secured a Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes of 86%.

Words by Laura Knowles

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