Introduction To Film And Adaptations English Literature Essay

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Adaptations are everywhere. On the television and film screen, on stage, in musicals, on the internet, in novels and comic books, in video games and even in theme parks. Video game character Lara Croft has been brought to the screen, comic book characters like Batman, Superman and The Avengers all have films either just released or in the making and the musical West Side Story is based on William Shakespeare's classic play Romeo & Juliet. The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, even have a specific category honouring screenplays that are adaptations from books.

You could say it is only a matter of time before something that was published is adapted into another art form.

Early development of film

The relationship between film and literature dates back to the early 20th century. At first, film was often used to show ordinary, everyday things like a man sneezing or a horse galloping. Films usually only contained one shot. Filmmakers began to experiment with films with more than one shot, usually depicting the life of Jesus Christ. These films were not yet one continuous story, and were intermixed with lectures and live choral numbers. You could say this was the very first film adaptation, the Bible was adapted to a film.

As technology advanced, filmmakers were able to show more than one shot in a movie. In the beginning, very simple stories were used. An example is one film, showing a man looking through a telescope at a young man polishing his girlfriend's shoes. The picture shifted from the overall shot of the man looking through a telescope to the scene with just the man and his girlfriend's shoes, and back to the overall shot again. However simple this sounds, it was actually a breakthrough for film making. The first film with continuous action was born.

This slowly developed into new ideas, and the art of film making became more sophisticated as it started to be able to use new and expanded technological inventions that made shooting films easier and less time consuming.

The years leading up to and including the First World War were the years that the film industry experienced a transition from short films that ran for only a few minutes to longer shows. This was the time when the general audience actually discovered these exciting moving pictures and the venues changed from small rooms with projectors to large cinemas. Film business was thriving and cinemas were able to charge higher prices, as people came back to see their favourite movie stars.

In the 1920's, the sound film or 'talkies' as they were called gained popularity. By 1929, nearly every film created in Hollywood (which was by then home to the most successful film industry) included sound. This paved the way for new storytelling possibilities. Now being able to tell stories that require character development and complex plot advancements, filmmakers started to look at literature as potential sources for films.

Why adapt?

Why were books considered a substitute for the until-then common fully original screenplays?

Firstly, literature is a good source for films because another author has already completed the creative process of inventing characters, plots and worlds. For filmmakers and screenwriters, this process can be expensive and time-consuming. An adaptation of an already successful work is easier to create than to begin a new work, which might fail and cost them a lot of money. In other words, it is a great substitute for original screenplays.

Secondly, in the early years of films, apparently, a large percentage of the movie-goers were lower-class citizens. Films provided easy entertainment with no language barriers. The owners of the cinemas wanted to bring in the higher class as well, and in order to attract them studios began adapting works from authors like Shakespeare and Dickens to attract those who had read the books and wanted to see the characters come to life. [1] 

These adaptations also had another purpose, besides entertainment: they aimed to educate the lower classes. This comes from the belief that 'the purpose of motion pictures is to teach the masses about their literary heritage.' In other words, they might not have heard of Jane Austen, but when they see Pride and Prejudice on the screen, they might be encouraged to visit the library and read it.

Nowadays, things are a little different. There is another reason that book adaptations are still one of the major sources of film plots. As there are so many films coming out in recent times, studios have to spend more and more money to stand out from the crowd and be able to sell their movie to a big audience. It's not unusual to see studios spend over a hundred million dollars on stars, special effects and marketing.

Every film is a gamble for them. If the film succeeds, they make back their investment and earn more money. But if the film fails or 'bombs', then the studios lose that money which can be disastrous for a company. Because of this huge gamble, many film companies look at books for future films because they already have an audience that knows about the work. On the one hand, audiences may know the name of the author and be intrigued, such as Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde. On the other hand, it may be known because of its mass popularity, such as Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series. This, of course, is not a definite route to success but it can be a safer bet than an original screenplay from an unknown author.

Common criticisms of adaptations

That is not to say that adaptations do not have flaws of their own. An often-heard comment after watching a film adaptation is that the book remains better than the film.

Movie versions of books tend to frustrate readers for the simple reason that they are not just like the book. The results are never the same as reading a book, for various reasons. For example, a film that precisely follows a novel would likely be too long for most audiences to sit through, so some things must be left out. Also, a book can easily convey things to the reader that are much more difficult for a movie to convey, such as background information about the setting or the nature of the relationship between characters, or even what characters are thinking at certain times.

Readers use their imagination to visualize the story. Films leave little to viewer's imaginations. When reading, a person is creating their own movie: he or she decides how the characters speak, what they look like and what their surroundings are like. The actor or actress does not look the way that most readers of the book had pictured them, or the accent might be off from what is described in the book.

Another complaint about movie versions is the fact that not all material from the novel is transferred to the screen. It is simply impossible to include everything, as films that try to do just that tend to run too long for normal audiences to enjoy, and movie studios would most likely lose money because people would not go to watch the film more than once.

In 1924, film maker Eric von Stroheim made a film called Greed, that he adapted from Frank Norris novel McTeague (1899). Originally, the film took every word, image and character that appeared in the novel and put it into the film with as little deviations from the original book as possible. The film ran over nine hours. The film was shortened by the studio to just over two hours.

This shows just one of the many difficulties in adapting a book.

As film is just another creative medium, the producers or director of a film might want to use their own experience and imagination in their film. This leads to various additions or omissions from book canon, which may confuse or dismay book readers. For example, in the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), the funeral of a major character was left out, and different scenes depicting romantic teenage relationships were added, angering certain fans that preferred the book version of the events.

Another example of film adaptation is Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, original books published in 1954-1955). While many changes had to be made in order to condense the story that spanned three books and over a thousand pages, the films are widely considered to be a successful adaptation, evidenced by the fact that the first film of the trilogy was nominated for the Oscar for 'Best Adapted Screenplay', and the third film that won the same category and also won 'Best Picture'.

Still, fans complained. The problem that Jackson and other directors face is that their interpretation of a book is not the same as anyone else's. Every director has their own personal interpretation and they might also be under strict time and budget constraints.

Theory behind adaptations

There has been a lot of study focussing on the 'art' of adaptation. Frequently, several modes or types of adaptation, are distinguished. The following is combination of a variety of sources.

These three modes are borrowing, intersection and transforming. Some other terms for the same things are traditional, literal and radical adaptations, or close, identical and loose, respectively.

First of all, there is borrowing. This happens when the adaptation extensively replicates the characters, plot and setting from the original source. Christopher Columbus's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) are all examples of traditional translations, as they borrow their content from J.K. Rowling's novels, without major alterations. In other words: 'A film is a close adaptation when most of the narrative elements in the literary text are kept in the film, few elements are dropped, and not many elements are added'. This specifically goes for the first three Harry Potter films as J.K. Rowling, upon selling the film rights, required that the film remain true to her work. She also insisted on having final approval of the actors who would bring the characters to life as well as various other aspects of the process. This ensures that the film does not deviate from the original story too much, and thus remains very close to the book. In short, the film maintains the overall traits of the book (its plot, settings and characters) but might revamp particular details in ways that the film makers see as necessary and fitting.

The second mode, intersection, or literal adaptations, is a way of adapting that is rarely used nowadays. As in the example some paragraphs above, in which a literal film adaptation ran for nine hours, it is frequently impractical to adapt a book literally. The original text would remain unchanged, the artist does not change or leave out a single item from the original material. A recent example is Hamlet (1996) by Kenneth Branagh. This film runs 242 minutes and keeps every character, scene and word intact.

Then there is the final mode, transforming, or radical adaptation. This is a very loose interpretation of the source material. It keeps a few essential elements of the original source, such as a character, setting or story. The film reshapes the book in an extreme way, either as an interpretation of the novel or as a way of making the film a fully independent work, and to separate it from its book counterpart. The film might completely throw the original text overboard and go its own way, keeping just one storyline of character. This happened in the 1995 film Clueless by Amy Heckerling. This film adapted Jane Austen's novel Emma into a twentieth-century high school teenage comedy, quite a big departure from the text. It is, perhaps, a way of interpreting a novel, in the broadest sense of the word.

These three modes are not the only way with which to categorize or order adaptations.

Some also use the term explicitness or specificity and fidelity. [2] 

Specificity deals with the assumption that literature and film each have different, individual characteristics that distinguish them from other creative forms. This means that, while an adaptation has a literary source, it remains different, and the film can stand by itself. This could mean, for example, that the plot of a Shakespeare play is moved into contemporary times, while keeping the original outline. A recent example is the film Romeo + Juliet (1996) by director Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardi DiCaprio and Claire Danes. The film keeps the romantic-drama storyline, but the rivalling Montagues and Capulets are represented as battling business empires and swords are replaced by guns.

Fidelity deals with the faithfulness the film has (or does not have) towards the original material. This seems to be the most discussed, among critics and fans alike. Three important questions can be asked when determining whether a film is faithful to the book or not. [3] 

1) Are the details of the settings and plot accurately retained or recreated?

2) To what extent do the nuance and complexity of the characters come across?

3) To what extent are the themes and ideas of the source communicated in the adaptation?

History of the book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the film version


Lord Voldemort has returned to power, and his wrath has been felt in both the Muggle and Wizarding worlds. Severus Snape, long considered an enemy of Voldemort and a member of Dumbledore's anti-Voldemort coalition, the Order of the Phoenix, meets with Narcissa Malfoy, mother of Draco and wife of Lucius, an imprisoned Death Eater. Snape makes an Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa, promising to protect her son, Draco.

Dumbledore heads to 4 Privet Drive to collect Harry from his aunt and uncle. On their way to the Burrow, Harry and Dumbledore stop to recruit Horace Slughorn to return to teaching at Hogwarts. Harry is reunited with his best friends, Ron and Hermione. When shopping for schoolbooks, Harry runs into Draco and follows him to Borgin and Burkes, where he overhears Draco threatening Borgin and insisting that he fix an unknown object. Harry is instantly suspicious of Draco, whom he believes to be a Death Eater, just like his father. The students return to school, and Dumbledore announces that Snape will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, much to Harry's surprise.

Harry receives a used Potions textbook that once belonged to someone named "The Half-Blood Prince." Spells and amendments are written in the margins of the book, and Harry uses the Prince's notes to excel at Potions. Dumbledore schedules regular meetings with Harry in which they use Dumbledore's pensieve to look at memories of those who have had direct contact with Voldemort. Dumbledore believes that if Harry can learn enough about Voldemort's history, it will help him when they finally fight face to face, as the prophecy concerning Harry foretells. Harry learns about Voldemort's family, including his grandfather Marvolo, his uncle Morfin, and his mother Merope, who cast a love spell on a Muggle and was abandoned by him when it wore off. Voldemort was left at an orphanage and grew to be an unpleasant and aggressive boy. Harry also learns that Voldemort has divided his soul into seven Horcruxes. Two of these, Tom Riddle's diary and Marvolo's ring, have already been destroyed. One resides in Voldemort, one resides in a snake, one is Merope's locket, and the other two are suspected to be hidden in objects belonging to Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Gryffindor.

Ron acquires a new girlfriend, Lavender, of whom Hermione is extremely jealous. Harry feels stuck in the middle of his friends' bickering. Eventually, Harry falls in love with Ginny, Ron's sister, and Ron and Lavender break up, making Hermione quite happy. Harry spends much of his time keeping up with his duties as Quidditch captain and following Draco Malfoy. Harry uses his Marauder's Map to keep track of Draco, but often cannot find him on the map. Eventually, Harry realizes that when Draco is not on the map, he is using the Room of Requirement on the seventh floor of Hogwarts, which transforms into whatever its user needs. Harry tries his best to get in to see what Draco is up to, but until he knows exactly what Draco is using the room for, he cannot gain access. Eventually Harry and Dumbledore leave Hogwarts together to fetch and destroy Merope's locket, thus making Voldemort one step closer to mortal. They must overcome a variety of traps and challenges before reaching the basin where the locket is hidden under a poisonous potion. Dumbledore drinks the potion and Harry fights off Voldemort's Inferi. They take the locket and return to Hogwarts as quickly as possible. Dumbledore is quite weak, and when they reach Hogsmeade they can see that the Dark Mark is visible above the astronomy tower.

Harry and Dumbledore rush toward the tower. When they arrive, Dumbledore uses his magic to freeze Harry in place, while Harry remains hidden by his cloak of invisibility. Draco Malfoy sprints into the room, threatening Dumbledore's life. Weak and with his wand out of reach, Dumbledore stalls Draco, telling him that he is not a killer and that the Order of the Phoenix could protect him and his mother from Voldemort. Draco lowers his wand, and Snape pushes into the tower. Harry cannot move or speak, but he hears members of the Order fighting Death Eaters below. Snape raises his wand and kills Dumbledore, sending him flying over the edge of the tower. When Dumbledore dies, his spell on Harry is broken, and Harry rushes after Snape, determined to avenge the death of his friend and headmaster. Snape escapes, and Harry is devastated. He looks at the locket he and Dumbledore retrieved and realizes that it is not a Horcrux. Inside the locket is a note from someone named "R. A. B." Harry tells his friends he will not be returning to Hogwarts next year and will instead search out and kill Voldemort by destroying all of the Horcruxes. Ron and Hermione vow to join him.

Source: - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - Plot overview

The book

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. After several publishers turned down the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it was published in 1997 by Bloomsbury. In 1998, the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published in the UK. The books were slowly starting to get more press attention. In 1999, the third book was published in the UK as well as the first three in the US. Around this time, the series had been gaining more and more fans and by the time Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released in 2000, there were lines of fans circling the bookstores at midnight queuing to buy the book. In 2003, the longest novel of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released. Two years after that, part 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released and two years after that the final instalment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published.

Apparently, Rowling had planned the basic story outline of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 'for years'. She spent two months going over her plan before she began writing seriously, something she had not taken the time for when writing Goblet of Fire, which meant she had to rewrite a third of the book. [4] She has said the following about her feeling about the book after she was done writing:

"I was seriously upset writing the end of the book, although Goblet of Fire was the hardest to write. I like it better than I liked 'Goblet', 'Phoenix' or 'Chamber' when I finished them. Book six does what

I wanted it to do and even if nobody else likes it, and some won't, I know it will remain one of my favourites of the series. Ultimately you have to please yourself before you please anyone else!" [5] 

The title was revealed on her website on 29 June 2004. On 21 December 2004, she announced she had finished writing the book. The release date was 16 July 2005.

Before the novel was actually published, 1.4 million orders were placed for Half-Blood Prince on The first print was 10.8 million books and within 24 hours, the book sold 9 million copies worldwide and within the first nine weeks, 11 million copies of just the US edition were sold.

In the series, this book is more connected to the next book than was the case with the other parts. Its plot is deeply connected to the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In all previous parts, the books started its main narrative with Harry spending his summer at his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys and ended with Harry going back home, knowing he would be able to go back to Hogwarts, his 'real' home. In this book, with the help of professor Dumbledore, Harry finds out about Voldemorts Horcruxes (pieces of his soul that make him immortal) and knows he has to destroy them all in order to truly defeat him. He cannot do this at school, so he decides to drop out and continue Dumbledore's quest to destroy them all.

The film

In 1997, the office of film producer David Heyman received a copy of the first book in the Harry Potter series. The novel had not yet been published and if it weren't for a secretary who discovered the book, Heyman would not have seen the book as he thought it had a 'rubbish title' and didn't think much of it. Consequently, he read the book and was impressed with Rowling's work.

In 1999, Heyman convinced the Warner Bros. studios to buy the film rights of the first four Harry Potter books. Rowling was hesitant to sell the rights as she didn't want to lose control over the rest of the story. In the end, however, she gave in, but not without demanding she is given a level of creative control and final say on several decisions. Rowling also served as a producer on the two-part adaptation of Deathly Hallows, alongside David Heyman who had produced all 8 films and David Barron who produced all but 2 of the films.

Steve Kloves was selected to write the screenplay for the first film, as well as for the rest of the series, the only exception being Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) which was written by Michael Goldenberg. In regards to the book-film adaptation, he commented it was a daunting task. Rowling took a hands-off approach to the film adapations, which meant she was readily available for advice but rarely dictated specific story details for the screen.

The first film was directed by Chris Columbus, who had had experience in making movies with young children. After the first two films, the producers felt it was time for a change. They asked Alfonso Cuarón to step in, with Columbus becoming producer. Cuarón said he was too busy with post-production of the third film to do the next one too, so the producers went to a director that had also been considered for the first instalment: British director Mike Newell. As Newell declined to direct any more films in the series, the fifth film was done by a new director; David Yates. Yates would later go on to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 and 2 as well. David Yates said he wanted to bring a sense of danger to the world. He has said it was a challenge striking the balance between making the films according to his individual vision, while working within a cinematic world already established by Columbus and the literary world already imagined by Rowling. [6] 

Rowling has said of the changes in the film adaptations: "It is simply impossible to incorporate every one of my storylines into a film that has to be kept under four hours long. Obviously films have restrictions novels do not have, constraints of time and budget; I can create dazzling effects relying on nothing but the interaction of my own and my readers' imaginations." [7] 

The series has garnered critical acclaim. At the 64th British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA's) in February 2011, the series was awarded the BAFTA Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award for all the films in the series. The films were also commercial successes. The Harry Potter film franchise is the highest grossing film franchise of all time, with the eight films combined making over $7.7 billion worldwide. Individually, Deathy Hallows - Part 2 (2011) grossed the most, over $1.3 billion. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince grossed a little over $930 million.

History of the book The Handmaid's Tale and the film version


The Handmaid's Tale is set in the near future in the Republic of Gilead, a country formed within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America. It was founded by a racist, homophobic, Christian nativist-derived, theocratic-organized cult's military coup as an ideologically driven response to the country's ecological, physical and social degradation.

Beginning with a staged terrorist attack (blamed on Islamic extremist terrorists) that kills the President and most of Congress, a movement calling itself the "Sons of Jacob" launches a revolution and suspends the United States Constitution under the pretext of restoring order.

They were quickly able to take away all of the women's rights, largely attributed to the financial records being stored electronically and labelled by gender. The new theocratic military dictatorship-styled "The Republic of Gilead", moved quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsorily cult-Christian regime of selectively skewed Old Testament-inspired social and religious ultra-conservatism among its newly created social classes. In this society, almost all women are forbidden to read.

The story is presented from the point of view of a woman called Offred (literally Of-Fred, however not a patronymic as some critics claim). The character is one of a class of individuals kept as concubines ("handmaids") for reproductive purposes by the ruling class in an era of declining births. The book is told in the first person by Offred, who describes her life during her third assignment as a handmaid, in this case to Fred (referred to as "The Commander"). Interspersed in flashbacks are portions of her life from before and during the beginning of the revolution, when she finds she has lost all autonomy to her husband, through her failed attempt to escape with her husband and daughter to Canada, to her indoctrination into life as a handmaid. Through her eyes, the structure of Gilead's society is described, including the several different categories of women and their circumscribed lives in the new theocracy.

The Commander is a high-ranking official in Gilead. Although he is only supposed to have sex with Offred during "the Ceremony", a ritual at which his wife is present, he begins an illegal and ambiguous relationship with her, exposing Offred to hidden or contraband aspects of the new society, such as fashion magazines and cosmetics. He takes her to a secret brothel run by the government, and he furtively meets with her in his study, where he allows her the proscribed activity of reading. The Commander's wife also has secret interactions with Offred, arranging for her to secretly have sex with her driver Nick in an effort to get Offred pregnant. In exchange for Offred's cooperation, the Commander's wife gives her news of her daughter, whom Offred has not seen since she and her family were captured trying to escape Gilead.

After Offred's initial meeting with Nick, they begin to rendezvous more frequently. Offred finds herself enjoying sex with Nick despite her indoctrination and her memories of her husband, and even goes as far as to divulge potentially dangerous information about her past. Through another handmaid, Ofglen, Offred learns of the Mayday resistance, an underground network with the intent of overthrowing Gilead. Shortly after Ofglen's disappearance (later discovered to be a suicide), the Commander's wife finds evidence of the relationship between Offred and the Commander, and Offred contemplates suicide. As the novel concludes, she is being taken away by men from the secret police, known as the Eyes, in a large black van under orders from Nick. Before she is taken away, Nick tells her that the men are part of the Mayday resistance and that Offred must trust him. Offred does not know if Nick is truly a member of the Mayday resistance or if he is a government agent posing as one, and she does not know if going with the men will result in her escape or her capture. She enters the van with a final thought on her uncertain future.

The novel concludes with a metafictional epilogue that explains that the events of the novel occurred shortly after the beginning of what is called "the Gilead Period". The epilogue itself is a "transcription of a Symposium on Gileadean Studies written sometime in the distant future (2195)", and according to the symposium's "keynote speaker" Professor Pieixoto, he and "a colleague", Professor Knotly Wade, discovered Offred's story recorded onto cassette tapes. They created an order for these tapes and transcribed them, calling them collectively "the handmaid's tale". Through the tone and actions of the professionals in this final section of the book, the world of academia is highlighted and critiqued. The epilogue implies that, following the collapse of the theocratic Republic of Gilead, a more equal society re-emerged with a return of the legal rights of women and also Native Americans. It is further suggested that freedom of religion was also re-established.

Source: - The Handmaid's Tale - Plot summary

The book

The book was first published in 1986. It was written in the mid-1980s by Margaret Atwood. The novel quickly became a best-seller. It is a dystopian novel, a novel in which the society is put on trial, so to say. It is set in an imagined world where societies are not ideal, but restrictive and terrifying. The book gives a feminist vision of a dystopia. It was written in a time shortly after the elections of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. This marked a revival of conservative ideas, driven by a strong movement of religious conservatives who criticized the 'sexual revolutions' of the 1960s and 1970s. Feminists in the 80's feared that the rights the women had gained in those decades would be reversed. In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood explores the consequences of a reversal of women's rights as a sort of warning against this.

The nightmare world in the novel is the Republic of Gilead, where a group of conservative religious extremists has taken power and completely abolished the sexual revolution. Feminists were fighting for liberation from traditional gender roles, but this society is founded on the basis of a 'return to traditional values' and gender roles. Widespread access to contraception, the legalization of abortion and the broad acceptance of feminine influence in politics were all undone. Women in Gilead are forbidden to read, to write and of course to vote. This is an extreme representation of the reversal of universal rights. This is done to warn for the consequences of ignoring the issues in the 80s society.


When the book came out it was quite controversial, and it still is today. It has been banned several times by right wing religious fundamentalists

The book has been quite controversial and it's actually been banned a few times, even in very recent history. Right wing religious fundamentalists who want to preserve 'traditional family values' have tried to ban the book, claiming it was too sexually explicit and offensive to Christians. This actually gives credibility to the message she is trying to convey in the book. It is the very people she criticises, who want to ban it.

The book is sexually explicit, in that it discusses the character's freedom being taken away, and forcing them to get pregnant with a specifically assigned man. Every little aspect of life is controlled by rules and regulations, which is essentially the horror of this book. The offense to Christian is not explicit. A radical Christian group takes over, but all other religions are persecuted and are not necessarily targeted as a bad thing. The religious sector, a fragment of the whole religious world, are the 'bad guy' not Christians as a whole.

The banning of the book can be seen as ironic. By banning it and essentially taking away the choice of whether or not people read it is a misuse of power and a (small) removal of people's freedom.

The film

The film was brought to the big screen by director Volker Schlöndorff in 1990. The film was written by Harold Pinter and stars Natasha Richardson as Offred/Kate, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy and Robert Duvall as the Commander.

Introduction to adaptation comparison

In the next part, I am going to answer the following four questions for both the adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood, published in 1986, adapted in 1990) and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling, published in 2005, adapted in 2009).

Which adaptation was, by critics, deemed successful and why?

To what extent are the themes and ideas of the source communicated in the adaptation?

Are the details of the settings and plot accurately retained or recreated?

To what extent do the nuance and complexity of the characters come across?

These last three are also my 'factors' on which I base my conclusion. The three different factors are also divided up into smaller sub-factors.

Which adaptation was, by critics, deemed successful and why? And if it wasn't, why not?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price

The movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was received quite well. On the website, a website that revolves entirely around reviews of films and gives them a score based on how many (professional) reviewers gave the film a 'Fresh' (good) or 'Rotten' (bad) rating, Half-Blood Prince scores a 7.1/10 and a 84% Fresh rating. This means that 84% of all reviewers thought the film was 'Fresh'.

Paul Dergarabedian, a reviewer from, called the film a 'possible Oscar contender'. He praised the performance of Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and Daniel Radcliffe. He said: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a tour-de-force that combines style and substance, special effects and heart and most importantly great performances from all the actors young and not-so-young. [8] 

Katie Rich, reviewer from, commented on the adaptation. She said: "[a] new scene is added midway through the movie as a replacement for a climactic final battle that is cut entirely. But the book's best and most terrifying scene, in which Harry and Dumbledore explore a cave that holds one of Voldemort's treasures, is executed perfectly." She also writes that for the most part all the cuts made from the book are good ones, "trimming the fat and such, but the presence of characters like Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) at the end no longer makes any sense with the final battle missing. For all the brilliance Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves show in condensing the story, the film, like all the others, arrives at an ending that feels less earned than inevitable." [9] 

The Handmaid's Tale

The movie adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale has not been received well. On, a website that revolves entirely around reviews of films and gives them a score based on how many (professional) reviewers gave the film a 'Fresh' (good) or 'Rotten' (bad) rating, The Handmaid's Tale scores a 4.5/10 and a poor 23% Fresh rating. This means that 23% of all reviewers thought the film was 'Fresh'.

Roger Ebert, a professional film critic, has written about the film: "I am not sure what the movie is saying. Is it a) that women are enslaved by their role as the bearers of children, or b) that poor and powerless women are carrying an unfair share of the burden by having all the kids while the rich women enjoy life? The movie seems equally angry that women have to have children at all, and that it is hard for them to have children now that men have mucked up the planet with their greedy schemes." He is unsure about the movies aims.

He also said: "For all of its anger, "The Handmaid's Tale" is curiously muted. Richardson's passivity was effective in "The Patty Hearst Story", where it was required. Here it is a distraction; the role requires someone with a higher energy level." [10] 

2) To what extent are the themes and ideas of the source communicated in the adaptation?

2.1 Sub factor audience

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Harry Potter books were originally intended for children. The first book was published by a children's publisher and had a cover clearly aimed at children. Over time, Rowling has evolved and so have her plot lines. When the first two books were more suitable for children age 8-12, according to several sources, the later books were aimed at children 12 and older. The novels themselves became more complex as her audience could now understand the darker themes, the more adult language, the high intensity of the fight scenes and so on.

Over the years, the series has also been received well by large audiences of older teenagers and adults and the series has gathered a major fan following.

The Handmaid's Tale

The audience of The Handmaid's Tale is the mass population. Although, of course, the book may be more appealing to certain demographics, the purpose of the novel is to inform the general population, as opposed to being a source of entertainment. A group that might have a particular interest in the book might be the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s. This group might still know the censorship that they fought against and that is being described in the book.

2) To what extent are the themes and ideas of the source communicated in the adaptation?

2.2 Sub factor themes

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There are several themes prevalent in the Harry Potter series. Examples include the importance of friendship, the power of self-sacrifice, trust, mortality, love, and of course good versus evil.


Dumbledore is a great believer in love. The film focuses on this aspect with the many teenage love relationships in the spotlight. As Dumbledore told Harry, love is the antidote to Voldemort's dark magic. It is the one thing Voldemort does not understand.

Mortality and acceptance of death

Death is a huge part of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In this book, the greatest wizard alive dies; professor Dumbledore. This is a reminder that even magic is no match for death. Death in the wizarding world too is irreversible. It is also the thing Voldemort is most afraid of. In this book and film, Harry and Dumbledore are slowly finding out the lengths Voldemort goes through to achieve immortality.


Friendship is a key factor in which the 'Good' Harry and Dumbledore differ from the 'Evil' Voldemort. Harry has two great best friends with whom he shares everything, and Dumbledore, realizing this, gives Harry permission to share arguably the most important piece of information of the present wizard world with them; the secret of Voldemorts Horcruxes. Voldemort, as we learn in the memories in the book, never had a friend in his life, lowering the barrier of humanity and making it easier for him to love and empathize. This is in sharp contrast with Dumbledore, who sees the best in the people around him.

Harry is afraid to lose Hermione and Ron, and when they get in a conflict over boyfriends and girlfriends (namely Cormac McLaggen and Lavender Brown), he is afraid this will create a rift between them. Likewise, when Harry develops feelings for Ginny, Ron's sister, he is afraid to act on it because he fears Ron would not be happy about it, and he doesn't want to jeopardize their friendship.

At the end of the book and the film, Ron and Hermione promise to accompany Harry on his final mission to destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes and, ultimately, Voldemort himself. Harry, although he first struggles to accept their offer, accepts in the end as he knows he cannot win this war on his own.


Dumbledore sacrifices himself when he drinks a poisonous potion, because he knows this has to be done in order to get information on how to defeat Voldemort. In the film, this aspect is also evident as the pain Dumbledore goes through is shown quite extensively. Harry knows he has to sacrifice his usual life of a Hogwarts student, but he understands that he has to fight and destroy Voldemort, just like the prophecy foretold.


Harry trusts his best friends without reservation, and that same loyalty also goes to Dumbledore. He follows his orders, trusting that Dumbledore knows the right thing to do. In the book, Harry tells the Minister of Magic that he is "Dumbledore's man through and through" (this scene is not in the film, but in the seventh film, the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1), this scene is echoed)

Even though Harry and Dumbledore disagree on whether Snape can truly be trusted. Harry doesn't think he is on the side of the Order of the Phoenix, but Dumbledore does. He trusts him unconditionally, but will not tell Harry or any other member of the Order of the Phoenix why he trusts Snape so much. In the book, this is repeated by Minerva McGonagall, after she finds out Snape killed Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower. She wonders why Dumbledore chose to trust Snape despite all her doubts, and she is terribly unhappy that his trust was unjustified (presumably).

Good versus evil

The good and the evil side of the world is quite defined in Harry Potter. It is easy to position Harry and Dumbledore as good and Voldemort as evil. This is not as apparent in The Half-Blood Prince, as it focuses less on the black-and-white part and more on the grey area. We learn how Voldemort came to be so evil and how his childhood and upbringing influenced his decision to inflect evil upon the world. We learn of Draco Malfoy and his dilemma's as a new-initiated Death Eater and how he struggles to belong in one of two camps, Hogwarts and his family or the Death Eaters.

The Handmaid's Tale

In order to properly be able to make a comparison between the message or purpose of the film and the book, the original purpose of the book has to be described.

Identity and language

In The Handmaid's Tale, nearly everyone's identity has been taken away by the government. Everyone, except some powerful higher-ups, has been renamed. Men are defined by their military rank, women are divided into classes (Wife, Hamdaid, Martha, Econowife). The body and its functions, especially being able to bear children, is more important than personality. This is especially highlighted by the fact that there are very few characters represented by their real name. The Handmaids are all referred to by names such as Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren etc. These names are a combination of 'of', signifying possession and the first name of the man they serve. These are not individual, as should a Handmaid, for any reason not continue to serve her Commander, the next Handmaid will take on the name, which happened when the original Ofglen got replaced. Even though the Aunts have individual names, in the Historical Notes at the end of the novel it is said that the Aunts were renamed by the administration; they refer to domestic products from the times before Gilead. Gilead maintains its control over women (and their bodies) by maintaining control over names.

In Gilead, there are prescribed greetings for personal encounters ("Blessed be the fruit", a quote from the Bible, is an example). If people do not offer the correct greetings, they may be accused of being disloyal to the state.


Gilead was formed in a time where there was widespread infertility due to toxic waste polluting the world and HIV and AIDS rendering many people sterile. Children have become precious and rare. Birthrates were dramatically low, and the entire structure of the state is built around a single goal: control of reproduction. The state basically assumes complete control of women's bodies. Women are reduced to their fertility and that is a Handmaid's only purpose: to produce a healthy baby.


In some ways, everyone is required to be passive in The Handmaid's Tale. Women have it worse than man, they have no financial or social power. In order to survive in this totalitarian state, characters have to be willing to take on a completely new identity; they have to take on new names and go where they're placed by the Red Center. They can't complain if their children are taken from them. Actively pursuing an activity such as something harmless as reading might result in severe punishments or even death.

At one point, Offred remarks that her freedom is incredibly restricted compared to the freedom from her former life, but the relationship with Nick allows her to reclaim the tiniest piece of her former existence. She seems to conclude that the company with Nick is a compensation for the restrictions, and she realizes this makes her life, however oppressed, almost bearable. She is content with the life she has, comfortable with her place, and when Ofglen asks her to gather information about the Commander for Mayday, she does not say yes.


In the society of Gilead, even the powerful Commander and his wife live very restricted lives. But the Handmaids are off worse than that; they are not allowed to go anywhere except the bedroom (either her own or the Commander's - for the Ceremony), the grocery store and sometimes executions. Handmaids barely get to do anything, they are trapped by their own fertility. If a Handmaid becomes pregnant by her Commander, her reward is not being replaced and not being sent to the Colonies. However, at the same time, if she becomes pregnant, she is forced to give birth to a child she won't get to keep, fathered by a man she does not love. This makes pregnancy a paradox; she does not get sent off to die, but she does get burdened with a child.