Alternative Adaptations

Love & Friendship
Love & Friendship

In our Key Texts film list we look at those essential book-to-film journeys which are a cornerstone of growing up. Here, we explore the adaptations that are less likely to be on the curriculum but are equally effective. Stories that inspire, educate and engage students of all ages, from tales that play with genre to influential graphic novels, ‘unfilmable' books and short stories from iconic writers.

You can also check out our Alternative Adaptations-themed podcast suitable for secondary-aged clubs.

Alice in Wonderland

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration73 mins

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

A series of bizarre and unforgettable adventures in this much-loved adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic story.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderful and its literary sequel Through the Looking Glass are dark and complex works which have made the transition into children’s films on numerous occasions. Disney’s 1951 animation is a true classic, and captures the enduring tale of one girl’s curiosity mixed with the oddities of language and logic.

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Coraline

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration100 mins

Coraline(2009)

When Coraline discovers a secret path to a parallel universe, she finds a world where she's never told off and it's always cake for dinner.

This children’s novella – just as dark and curious as Alice’s adventures – is from British author Neil Gaiman. It’s since been adapted into a graphic novel, video game and even a musical. For the film, stop-motion studio LAIKA took it on as their first feature. Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) was the natural choice to direct.

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Howl's Moving Castle

CertU

Age group5–16

Duration119 mins

Howl's Moving Castle(2004)

Japanese animated epic about a crotchety wizard living in a strange castle who saves a young hat-maker, who is then cursed by a jealous witch.

Coraline is full of odd creatures, as are many of Studio Ghibli’s much-loved films. Ghibli have enjoyed mining British literature for cinematic gold, doing so on three occasions. Principally set in a magical dimension (with the odd visit to Wales), this eccentric tale is centered on a wizard, his apprentice, a fire demon and a girl-turned-old-lady called Sophie.

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When Marnie Was There

CertU

Age group7–14

Duration103 mins

When Marnie Was There(2014)

A shy girl sent to the country to recover from asthma discovers an abandoned mansion and begins to explore its mysteries with her new friend Marnie.

Another largely undiscovered gem of children’s literature turned Studio Ghibli film is this heartfelt tale of one girl’s emotional wellbeing. Originally set in Norfolk, the anime transports the story to Sapporo, one of Japan’s largest cities. Marnie is the mysterious new friend of Anna, who struggles to make sense of her surroundings. A beautiful tale of growing up.

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Frozen

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration97 mins

Frozen(2013)

Snow-filled and funny Disney adventure inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's icy fairytale, The Snow Queen.

A reworked version of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, this immensely popular Disney flick also has two young girls at the forefront of the story. Full of spellbinding magic, delightful characters and a series of brilliant songs, Frozen is a fairy tale sensation, drawing upon Danish culture and mythology.

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The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration137 mins

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe(2005)

Classic family adventure tale of four World War Two refugees finding a gateway to a fantasy world in the back of their old wardrobe.

From one magical land to another, Narnia is a name synonymous with fantasy realms. The first and best-known book in The Chronicles of Narnia series from C.S. Lewis is a must-read. The film rights were never sold during the author’s life, but in 2005 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe transferred to the silver screen, with Liam Neeson voicing the legendary lion, Aslan.

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Paddington

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration91 mins

Paddington(2014)

Charming family film about an accident prone young bear from Peru arriving in London and searching for a new home.

From one adored series of British books to another. The Peruvian bear with a fondness for marmalade has been around for more than 50 years, with a wonderful motion picture finally released in 2014. Colin Firth was all set to voice Paddington but voluntarily dropped out late on, paving the way for Ben Whishaw to step in and brilliantly capture the character’s innocence.

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Where The Wild Things Are

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration99 mins

Where The Wild Things Are(2009)

Spike Jonze's live action adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's classic about tameable monsters and an angry little boy.

And yet another beloved children’s novel which relatively recently received the big screen treatment is Where the Wild Things Are. Indie director Spike Jonze was not the conventional choice to helm the project, but his adaptation captures the spirit of the original to great effect, with a real sense of adventure and danger.

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Animal Farm

CertU

Age group7+

Duration69 mins

Animal Farm(1954)

A faithful animated retelling of the classic story by novelist George Orwell that sees farm animals split into conflicting groups.

A different kind of fantasy replicating reality here, as George Orwell’s allegorical novel satirizes historical figures including Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. However, the most prominent adaptation is a 1950s animation, softening the subject through its visuals, yet also serving as a neat introduction to subjects such as loss, ethics and society.

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The Jungle Book

CertU

Age group5–14

Duration78 mins

The Jungle Book(1967)

The all-singing, all-dancing animated adaptation of the popular children's novel, packed with lovable characters and infectious songs.

Another classic here which bookends the topic nicely as – like Alice in Wonderland – it also has a fresh live-action version to compare and contrast with. The Disney animation boasts memorable songs while Jon Favreau’s remake is a visual feast, and both retain themes of survival and community which are also apparent in the collection of stories written by Rudyard Kipling.

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Love & Friendship

CertU

Age group11+

Duration93 mins

Love & Friendship(2016)

Sharp, comedic adaptation of Jane Austen novella Lady Susan.

A great starting point to explore alternative adaptations is Whit Stillman’s razor-sharp period comedy about the lives and loves of a group of well-to-do families. Unlike its steely and serious peers, the film – based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan – charms with its fiendishly comedic tone, revelling in its rebellious, mischievous and gloriously manipulative protagonist.

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The Great Gatsby

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration143 mins

The Great Gatsby(2013)

A flamboyant, visually sumptuous adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's homage to the Jazz Age, centreing on a mysterious story of love and tragedy.

A different way to bring a literary period to life is to, as Baz Luhrmann has twice done, modernise it with pop music and flashy visuals. In the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary milestone, the Aussie director uses a jazzy soundtrack featuring the likes of Lana Del Rey and Jay Z as well as superb choreography to make the text accessible for a new generation.

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Cloud Atlas

Cert15

Age group14–16

Duration164 mins

Cloud Atlas(2012)

From a young man's sea voyage to post-apocalyptic Hawaiian tribesmen, this sprawling, fantastical epic shows us how everything is connected.

Another duo unafraid to tackle tricky texts – David Mitchell’s award-winning novel was often labelled as ‘unfilmable’ – are the Wachowskis, often bringing their own flair and flamboyance to proceedings. This three-hour epic is an extraordinary production, using actors in multiple gender-fluid roles across the six connected stories, spanning centuries.

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V For Vendetta

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration134 mins

V For Vendetta(2005)

Unusual, ideas-packed thriller set in a parallel Britain, where a Guy Fawkes- inspired terrorist tries to stir up resistance against a dictatorship.

The Wachowskis penned the screenplay for celebrated graphic novelist Alan Moore’s dystopia set in the 1980s. Reflecting and satirizing the turbulent political landscape of the era and playing heavily with language, the V-mask became the symbol of a real-life revolution during the cyber age.

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Blade Runner

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration117 mins

Blade Runner(1982)

In the future human clones are sent to work in the outer reaches of space, when six escape and head to earth a blade runner is sent to hunt them.

From one influential dystopian writer to another, Philip K. Dick – one of the most celebrated sci-fi writers of all time – has seen many of his works arrive in theatres, albeit with new titles. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became Blade Runner 14 years later through visionary director Ridley Scott, in what is often cited as a masterpiece on both page and screen.

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Never Let Me Go

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration100 mins

Never Let Me Go(2010)

Thought-provoking film on the nature of being human.

The potential sentience of robots has been a long-discussed topic in art, with Japanese-born author Kazuo Ishiguro penning this in 2005. Ex Machina director Alex Garland composed the screenplay for its conversion, with both interpretations proving emotionally-draining as we follow a trio of young lovers caught in a world of hope and revelations in this coming-of-age dystopia.

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

CertPG

Age group11–16

Duration104 mins

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy(2005)

Waking up to find that his house is to be demolished, Arthur Dent discovers that his whole planet is lined up for a similar fate.

More androids here, and further questions about the nature of identity. The Hitchhiker’s Guide series has been performed and presented in most mediums, from stage shows to comic book adaptations. Douglas Adams’ seminal original finally made its way to the big screen in 2005, featuring Martin Freeman as lead character Arthur Dent, retaining its many quirks and quandaries.

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Ender's Game

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration110 mins

Ender's Game(2013)

The fate of humanity rests on one young boy's shoulders in this futuristic sci-fi with explosive visual effects.

A continuation of sci-fi exploration in space with this brilliant young-adult novel from 1985. Orson Scott Card’s initial foray into the life of Ender Wiggin spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, with Asa Butterfield proving perfect casting. The novel has nuances which its peers do not, whereas the film’s visuals allow its aesthetics to excel.

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The Hunger Games

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration140 mins

The Hunger Games(2012)

In a post apocalyptic America, two children are randomly selected for a brutal competition of which there can only be one survivor.

Sadly, Ender’s Game didn’t catch the imagination of its audience like The Hunger Games did. Riding the wave of Harry Potter and Twilight fandom, it soon became the next big thing with teenage audiences, with the films bringing its violence and chaos to life. After finding its own major success, it inspired a spate of YA dystopias, most notably The Maze Runner and Divergent.

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The Virgin Suicides

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration92 mins

The Virgin Suicides(1999)

A bizarre outbreak of suicides among the girls of one family is the focus of this intelligent, haunting Sofia Coppola film.

These themes of gender, loss and young love are examined in an altogether more sombre way here. This was Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut in 1993 and was Sofia Coppola’s first feature upon adapting it six years later. In both versions it became – and remains – a cult classic, as a group of male friends strive to understand and become closer to five enigmatic sisters.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration98 mins

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

The joys and heartbreaks of growing up are beautifully handled in this captivating coming-of-age story that balances emotion with humour.

A coming-of-age treasure in both written and visual form, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a rite of passage for teens everywhere. Its creator Stephen Chbosky went on to both write the screenplay and direct the 2012 indie hit co-starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. All-at-once distressing and uplifting, Perks reaffirms the value of being yourself.

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Room

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration118 mins

Room(2015)

Harrowing but hugely moving story about a young boy and his mother attempting to escape the enclosed surroundings the boy has known his entire life.

Room also explores childhood trauma – albeit very differently – and its author Emma Donoghue additionally wrote the screenplay. Expertly crafted by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Frank), the film contains two stunning performances and, alongside the novel, is able to transform a seemingly tragic tale into one of courage and optimism.

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Precious

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration105 mins

Precious(2009)

Highly charged drama about an overweight teen growing up in an abusive family in New York, who meets an inspiring teacher.

Much like Room, Precious shows us the harrowing effects of abuse, although in this case it comes from within the family. Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, Precious is a 16-year-old girl living in Harlem. With several hard-hitting themes including rape, teen pregnancy and illiteracy, this is ultimately a message about the will to triumph over adversity.

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Brooklyn

Cert12

Age group14+

Duration107 mins

Brooklyn(2015)

A young Irish immigrant starts an exciting new life in 1950s Brooklyn, but soon finds the past catching up with her.

If Precious demonstrates what a difficult environment a childhood home can be, Brooklyn reminds us of the potential pull it has. Colm Tóibín’s created an emotional journey which perfectly captures the feeling of being torn between two different worlds. The novel’s words linger in the memory with the film’s score, set design and performances adding to its rich source.

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The Selfish Giant

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration87 mins

The Selfish Giant(2013)

This contemporary fable tells the story of two boys, shunned by their community, who resort to collecting scrap metal for a shady local dealer.

Clio Barnard’s loose take on Oscar Wilde’s short story also puts location at its heart, as two young boys have their friendship tested in industrial Bradford. Pursuing scrap metal in order to sell it for a profit, the story’s gritty qualities draws comparisons with the likes of Shane Meadows’ films. A beautifully shot and lovingly-told fiction of working class youth.

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Stand By Me

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration85 mins

Stand By Me(1986)

A dark and touching coming-of-age tale about a group of four boys who are forced to face harsh reality when they find the body of a missing boy.

It’s difficult to think about coming-of-age films based on short stories without mentioning Stand by Me, based on The Body by one of the great writers of the 20th century, Stephen King. Known primarily for his horror writing, this is just of many examples of King’s writing which has endured – and endeared so many towards it – over the years.

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Tell No One

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration125 mins

Tell No One(2006)

Fast-paced, ingeniously plotted French thriller that fully rewards the effort you have to put into keeping track of all the twists.

Alongside Stephen King in libraries across the land is the name of crime writer Harlan Coben. Having composed many works since his first in 1990, Tell No One is actually the only of his books to receive a film adaptation and, unusually, was made in French. This intricate, twist-riddled thriller was extremely well-received by critics, earning four César Awards.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration122 mins

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy(2011)

It's 1970s Cold War Britain and someone is leaking secrets to the Russians. Cue a tangled web of lies, deceit and creeping paranoia.

Moving away from horror and crime and onto spying sees a name synonymous with the genre: John le Carré. Tinker Tailor is arguably his greatest work, dealing with the writer’s familiar tropes. Featuring a terrific ensemble cast of British talent, the icy tension of detecting a mole in the agency works terrifically well as a piece of slow-burning cinema.

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The Social Network

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration115 mins

The Social Network(2010)

An unmissable explanation of exactly how Facebook has changed all our lives.

From traditional spying to cyber security, David Fincher’s superbly intricate tale of 21st century duplicity – emboldened by Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp script – blurs lines between fact and fiction. Based on Ben Mezrich’s fascinating The Accidental Billionaires – reportedly based on true events – it presents the dubious nature of Facebook’s inception.

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