Adapting sounds like it would be the easier of the screenwriting disciplines, but in many ways it’s a lot harder. First of all, there’s a fanbase that you’re required to please while still making a unique product and often the idiosyncrasies of the original source may be really hard to smooth out. This year we’re seeing adaptations of two non-fiction pieces, two novels, and a T.V. show.
- Nick Hornby- An Education: Nick Hornby was already famous for his original novels, which have often themselves been the sources for adapted screenplays, when he took it upon himself to write this screenplay based on a memoir by a British journalist named Lynn Barber. The original autobiographical piece was a short work without much dialogue and Hornby was able to inject it with his usual wit and insight.
- Scott Z. Burns- The Informant!: When Scott Z. Burns decided to adapt Kurt Eichenwald’s non-fiction book about the ADM price-fixing scandal he had the challenge of making a stranger-than-fiction story and making it relatable. To do so, he focused in on the title character, an absolutely bonkers individual, and let the viewer sink into his wacky mindset, while also remaining at a safe distance. This is a great way to look at this scandal without leaving the viewer lost in the complicated details of corporate crime.
- Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche- In the Loop: Seeing four names under the “written by” credit is usually a bad sign, but it seemed to work gloriously here. Adapted from a British television show called “The Thick of It,” this satire manages to skewer the rushed run-up to the Iraq war with all the necessary gallows humor. This is a very smart and very funny film, but also one that manages to create some really relatable characters and putting it all into a very authentic geopolitical situation.
- Tom Ford and David Scearce- A Single Man: By far the nominee with the oldest source, A Single Man was based on a 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, an author who would seem to be pretty similar to the film’s main character. The fact that so much of what happens in this story exists in the head of the protagonist was the real challenge here, and on page I think Ford was able to express it without being to obvious, at least on the page.
- Joe Penhall- The Road: This was easily the most hotly anticipated adaptation of the year and for a number of reasons. Cormac McCarthy novels have been hot properties ever since the Coen brothers triumphed with his No Country For Old Men. But this is no average McCarthy novel, it was a bestselling opus which managed to win the Pulitzer Prize. It was also an incredibly difficult text to adapt and while Penhall’s work perhaps wasn’t perfect, I think he made pretty much the best adaptation he could.