Play Hard

12 films and TV series based on bestselling books

The newest releases, the streaming favourites and the ones in development to watch out for soon – here are some of the best page-to-screen adaptations out there.

Written by Chris Kingston
Published 29.11.2023

Books based on movies and TV can be very hit or miss.

Plenty film adaptations can be as good as, or even surpass the novel itself, while others can be an absolute disaster.

Hopefully, I’ve chosen some real hits in this round up of the most recent releases available on various streaming platforms. I’ve even discovered some page-to-screen adaptations that aren’t even out yet, which I’m really looking forward to seeing soon.

So, as they say in the literary world: if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin…

 

NEW AND COMING SOON

 

Lessons in Chemistry Apple TV

Lessons in Chemistry 

Apple TV 

Lessons in Chemistry is set in the early 1950’s and follows chemist Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson), whose dream of being a scientist is put on hold when she becomes a single mother.

Forced to resign, she is offered a job hosting a TV cooking show, Supper at Six, and soon sets out to teach a nation of overlooked housewives. Her revolutionary style of cooking gets the nation talking – and challenges not just the recipes, but their opinions, too.

Based on the massive bestseller by Bonnie Garmus, this is a story that portrays the career struggles of women and their journey to self-empowerment.

All the Light We Cannot Sea Netflix

All The Light We Cannot See 

Netflix 

Based on the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anthony Doerr, this epic war story is a tale of star-crossed love.

In this remarkable limited series, we follow Marie Laure (Aria Mia Loberti) a blind teenager who is caught with her father in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. Her father is a master locksmith at the museum of Natural History, where she hears stories of the Sea of Flames: a legendary object which will grant immortality.

Her path collides with Werner, a German soldier forced to fight for the Nazi Regime, who soon becomes smitten with her. Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie also star.

If you haven’t read the book yet, now’s your chance to lose yourself in this moving story.

The Buccaneers Apple TV

The Buccaneers

Apple TV

The Buccaneers is based on the final, unfinished novel of Edith Wharton.

This series tells a fictionalised account of the influx of American heiresses who descended on English society in the late 19th century, who are rather intent on finding themselves husbands.

The series stars a cast of bright young talent, which includes Imogen Waterhouse and Alisha Boe. Look out for Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks too, who makes a welcome return to the small screen.

The series has been described as Gossip Girl meets Bridgerton – in other words, perfect seasonal viewing for a cosy night in.

Leave the world behind Netflix

Leave The World Behind

24th November, Netflix

In Leave The World Behind, we follow a Long Island family as their vacation descends into apocalyptic chaos when a mysterious blackout plunges them into suspenseful darkness.

Two families are left to decide how to survive in this crisis. But as the world collapses around them and imminent threats grow, their closest bonds are changed forever.

At this time of crisis, Leave the World Behind looks at the complexities of parenthood, race, and the class that once defined these families. The movie stars Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali and Ethan Hawke.

The Color Purple film

The Color Purple

26th January, cinemas  

Based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker, The Color Purple follows the life of a young African-American girl named Celie Harris.

Set in rural Georgia, Celie writes letters to God where she details her experiences which include domestic violence, child abuse, poverty, racism and sexism.

The 1985 film adaptation of the novel, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, was directed by Steven Spielberg and won a host of industry awards, and the story has since been made into a stage musical.

This newest version is a coming-of-age, onscreen period musical, with a cast that includes Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks and Halle Bailey.

AVAILABLE NOW – STREAMING FAVES

Daisy Jones and the Six

Daisy Jones & The Six 

Amazon Prime

Daisy Jones & The Six is a 10-episode series adapted from the mega bestselling novel of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

It tells the story of a fictional band that had a rise to fame in the 1970s. Riley Keough plays Daisy Jones and Sam Clafin stars as Billy Dunne, who both have an entangled artistic chemistry that propelled the band from obscurity to fame in an instant. However, this led to the band eventually breaking up after a fateful concert.

Jenkins Reid has said that the story was inspired by her teenage years growing up, watching Fleetwood Mac perform. So, if you’re a fan of classic rock or just good music in general, then you’ll enjoy this compelling drama.

War and Peace BBC

War and Peace

Amazon Prime

This classic novel by Leo Tolstoy has been adapted numerous times for both TV and film, but the most recent was this six-part series from 2016.

It stars Paul Dano (The Batman) as Pierre Bezukhov, James Norton as Andrei Bolkonsky and Lily James as Natasha Rostova.

It is said that Tolstoy’s epic wartime saga of love and loss is extremely hard to adapt, but this series comes really close to nailing it. If you’re a fan of classic literary adaptations, you should definitely revisit this series on Prime Video.

The Power adaptation

The Power

Amazon Prime

Based on the bestselling novel by Naomi Alderman, the world of The Power is set in our world, but with a deadly twist of nature. Suddenly and without warning teenage girls around the world develop the power to electrocute people at will. Apparently, this power is hereditary: it’s inbuilt and can’t be taken away from them. Awakened to the thrill of pure power and the dangerous ability to hurt or even kill by releasing electrical jolts from their fingertips, these girls soon begin the quest to awaken the power in older women.

Soon, every woman in the world can do harness this gift. And then, suddenly, everything changes with a complete reversal of the power balance.

This nine-part series stars Toni Collette, Toheeb Jimoh and Halle Bush, among others.

IN DEVELOPMENT

A good girl's guide to murder adaptation

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder

BBC Three

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a six-part series coming to BBC Three, based on the hugely popular novel of the same name by bestselling author Holly Jackson.

Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend Sal Singh. Case closed. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. But smart and single-minded Pip Fitz Amobi isn’t so sure – and she’s determined to prove it.

If Sal Singh isn’t a murderer and the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?

Queenie Candice Carty Williams

Queenie

Channel 4 

Candice Carty William’s bestselling novel, Queenie, is busy being adapted for Channel 4 as we speak.

Queenie is a 25-year-old Black woman living in south London, straddling Jamaican and British culture whilst slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white, middle-class peers, and beg to write about Black Lives Matter. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie finds herself seeking comfort in all the wrong places.

As Queenie veers from one regrettable decision to another, she finds herself wondering: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be? – the questions that every woman today must face in a world that keeps trying to provide the answers for them.”

Shuggie Bain adaptation

Shuggie Bain

BBC One

Don’t expect this one to arrive anytime soon, but we’re sure it’ll be worth the wait when it does hit our screens.

Author Douglas Stuart is adapting his Booker Prize-winning novel for the BBC, which tells the autobiographical story of young Shuggie and his siblings as they grow up against a harsh backdrop of poverty and alcohol addiction in 1980s Glasgow.

Agnes Bain has always expected more from life, dreaming of greater things. But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and as she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves.

It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different, he is clearly “no’ right”. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place…

Hamnet adaptation

Hamnet

Cinemas

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name from Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Maggie O’Farrell, no casting details have been announced yet for Hamnet, although Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley are currently in talks for the main roles.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. Above all, it’s a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

Christopher Kingston
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