The books are better, but…

Lest you think this is just an excuse for posting another gratuitous Sean Bean pic, let me tell you I have been thinking about what Susan Wilbanks said last week, about the Sharpe books being better than the films. I’m about half-way through the series now and for the most part, I agree. But I’m also finding there’s a synergy between the books and films, at least in my mind, that helps them both.

For this series, I broke my usual rule of reading the book first, so Sean Bean easily became my image of Sharpe. In the books he is dark-haired and there’s the confusion about where in England he hailed from, but I’ve managed to get over those issues. Now when I read the books, I hear Bean’s voice and see his face. Yeah, it doesn’t hurt the reading experience at all. : )

In cases where I have read a book before seeing the film, sometimes the actors still manage to take the place of my first mental images of the characters. When I’ve read subsequent installments of Harry Potter, I now see and hear the voices of the cast from previous films. Also not a bad thing.

Lots of authors (many of us here, I think) use this sort of effect in a similar way, using actors as inspiration for their characters’ appearance and sometimes for aspects of their personality as well.

Right now I’m “using” John Corbett and Laura Linney, picking up a few traits from their roles in Northern Exposure and Love, Actually. For my hero, I found this image. He’s got that bold, embracing-life sort of feel I want for my balloonist. Laura Linney’s character, on the other hand, is sensitive, caring and bound by a sense of responsibility. Clever contrast, huh?

Anyway… as a reader or a writer, do you find this sort of synergy happening between books and films?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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Cara King
13 years ago

Oh, yes, definitely! It’s no accident the physical model of my hero in GAMESTER was Russell Crowe in GLADIATOR — because his character in that movie was an amazingly self-sacrificing, duty-driven natural leader, and didn’t spend a lot of time laughing. 🙂


Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

I have to agree with Cara. A character on film has that extra dimension that allows him or her to fill your senses and becomes a completely relateable being.

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

Pride & Prejudice is my reference point and the way I viewed Darcy, Lizzie, and Mrs. Bennett certainly changed from the book to the movie. Now, I have completed imprinted on the 1005 movie.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Good point about P&P, Keira. Even though I loved the 2005 P&P, the characters weren’t Austen’s characters, but something else entirely. But I do picture Austen’s characters as the same as the BBC film. Same with Persuasion.

Now Sharpe is a different story altogether. I can agree with Sean Bean’s hunkiness but he is not Sharpe to me and, to me, Patrick is totally miscast in the video versions. I listened to the Sharpe series on audiotape and Sharpe to me sounds like William Gaminara, the narrator. That is a good thing.

I haven’t seen The Duchess yet but although Keira Knightly gives a good performance (I’ve heard) she can never be Georgiana to me. Georgiana is as Gainsborough painted her.

On the books into movie subject, I caught a bit of Jane Porter’s Flirting With Forty, the Lifetime Made for TV Movie. Way to go, Jane!!!

13 years ago

A Sharpe enthusiast relished informing me that the author of Sharpe so likes Bean’s portrayal that he actually wrote the most recent book with Bean in mind. Now, what would THAT be like? To have your hero played by the actor you visualized?

Potter, P&P (Matthew Macfadyen), LOTR, Pimpernel (Anthony Andrews), Zorro (Tyrone Power), Robin Hood (Errol Flynn), Narnia: Sometimes the actors are spot on. I tend to lean toward the book, but have no problem tweaking a little, one way or the other, to fit.

13 years ago

While Sean Bean did not fit Bernard Cornwell’s original description (black hair with a white badger stripe), I thought SB perfectly captured the ethos of the working class male risen through the ranks who has to deal with men of lesser ability who barely acknowledge his existence. I did hear, however, that SB is not good with accents, so Cornwell changed Sharpe’s background somewhat in the later books to account for this. Because I love how SB moves, I’m perfectly willing to let him have whatever accent he wants. I only allowed myself to watch one of the videos after finished that particular book in the series, and while in general I agree that the books were better and most of the other actors did not measure up to my imagination, Sean Bean completely imprinted himself on my vision of Sharpe.

The 1995 A&E P&P is an example of a case where all the actors now embody how I see the characters. OTOH, as much as I love James McAvoy, his physical presence was not that of Robbie Turner, the character he played in “Atonement”. The role needed someone bigger and more commanding in several of the scenes (e.g. the one in the library where Briony sees Robbie and her sister and completely misunderstands what is going on). McAvoy was too small compared to Keira Knightley, and Briony’s fears that Robbie was overwhelming Cee just didn’t come across. When I saw the film in the theatre last year, I kept imagining Heath Ledger in the role, so his death a week later seemed even more of a shock because I’d been thinking of him so recently.

13 years ago

I just saw Atonement without reading the novel and didn’t like it. A soggy piece of melba toast IMO. I’m a huge McAvoy fan, but I kept waiting for him to summon his inner something and stop zombie-ing around France mumbling about coming back to her. I now have no desire to read the book, is it better?

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Atonement is a wonderful book, Janegeorge, one of my very favorites! (though I enjoyed the movie far more than you, LOL)

Despite the fact that I’ve seen numerous versions of P&P and Jane Eyre several times, whenever I go back to the books the characters are the same ones who were in my head the first time I read them! I have never read Gaskell’s “North and South”, though, and am curious if I would keep seeing Richard Armitage the whole time…

13 years ago

I basically do envision the P&P95 people when I read P&P now. . . even though I did purposely read all JA books before watching any movies. But when one speaks to you, guess there’s no helping that these actors sneak on in. And Jane Eyre, I did see that before reading the book (I wanted to see what the story was about to see if I wanted to read it, and it just so happen to be on PBS and I caught it), so I think Toby whatshisname was the Mr Rochester in my head. 🙂

But the whole idea of books/movies better. . . I usually like books better or equally or liked them equally but for different reasons (think that all makes sense), but one example I can think of that I liked the movie better — The hunt For Red October. And it has nothing to do with Sean Connery. Nope, uh-uh.

Okay, so it does. So sue me. 🙂


Elena Greene
13 years ago

A character on film has that extra dimension that allows him or her to fill your senses and becomes a completely relateable being.

The trick is to take that inspiration and somehow convey it to readers. Of course, if one wrote in Hugh Jackman and the reader “got” Gerard Butler, I suppose it wouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

I’m with Diane on P&P. I loved the 2005 version but the 1995 version feels more true in the book. Although I enjoyed The Duchess, Keira Knightly doesn’t really embody the real person for me.

Interesting views on Atonement. I read the book (which surprisingly, most of my book group didn’t care for) and found it gut-wrenching enough that I was afraid to see it in the theatre. I’m a total emotional slob and need to wait for video, when I can have an unlimited supply of Kleenex…

Lois, I’m with you on Connery. It’s something about his voice, I think. And he also plays a Lithuanian in that film, which is cool though his pronunciation was pretty awful.

13 years ago

Usually I like books better than movies, though I can often still enjoy the movies. Movies are so different from books, it’s not always fair to compare them. Once in a while a movie does such a good job of capturing a book that I think it is just as good (as a movie) as the book was (as a book). If you see what I mean.

Every once in a great while I like a movie better than the book. There are a couple of Agatha Christie adaptations where I felt that way–I feel in some of her novels that she concentrated on the puzzle too much, without leaving much room for character, and good actors can breathe life into even very flatly-written characters. And while I never saw the movie, I’ve heard that many people think the film of The Bridges of Madison County is better than the book. (Frankly, I didn’t much care for the book so I find that quite believable. 🙂


Keira Soleore
13 years ago

Todd, I’m a huge fan of Bridges of Madison County. It’s Meryl Streep and the story. Reminded me of Out of Africa.

Ammanda and JaneGeoge: No idea why, but Atonement was hard for me to really like, despite how much I like KeiraK and James McAvoy.

Elena, I had gone to the bookstore earlier today (its Wed evening here) and found a great bookmark: “Never judge a book by its movie.” by J.W. Eagan

Linda Banche
13 years ago

I agree with Todd about the Agatha Christie books. I find her books very dry, but I love the screen adaptations of them, for both the characters and the settings. It took me a while to figure out that she wrote contemporary mysteries. The ones we see now as “period”, such as the ones set in the thirties, she wrote in the 1930’s. **grins**

I read the first two Harry Potter books before I saw the movies, and I could tell the parts of the book that were left out. But I think the actors fit the book well. There’s even a guy here at work who looks exactly like the actor who plays Harry.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

Ladyhawk, I forgot to say that is so cool about Cornwell and Bean.

Now that I’m in the middle of the series and seeing some of the discontinuities (not all due to the films) I sort of wonder how it would be if Cornwell went through them all and smoothed it out. I know that’s what I’d want to do as an author but then I’m a bit OC. 🙂

I didn’t much care for Bridges of Madison County. It seems like a certain male fantasy (with apologies to our gentleman visitors): having the affair without the commitment.

You know, I haven’t read any Agatha Christie books but I’ve enjoyed some of the movies. Since I tend to care more for characterization than plot I think I’ll stick with that.

13 years ago

It is actually rare for me to like both the book and the movie; most of the time, if I truly love the book, I’ll avoid the film. Frankly, many a casting decision first puzzles and then repels me. On top of that, often the cut scenes or modified dialogue make me want to screech at the screen.

Yeah, what can I say? Leave my books alone! 😀

Exceptions: Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Like Water for Chocolate (this one because Laura Esquivel, the author of the book, wrote the screen adaptation)

13 years ago

It does help (usually) when the author of the book is allowed some say in the films. I think that’s why the HP films jive so well with the books. Louis Sachar wrote the book and screenplay for Holes, and I thought the movie was just as fab as the book.

So now we just need a screenwriter who can channel Jane Austen, although who knows, perhaps that what Emma Thompson did. 🙂

13 years ago

A thought about books versus movies: if the book is wonderful it’s hard for the movie to equal or better it, but if the book is mediocre (or worse) it may be easy for the book to improve on it. This is especially true if the book has an interesting plot that can be carried forward into the film but not such good prose.

Agatha Christie may be an example of the above. Another is “The Horse Whisperer”, which — other than an excellent first chapter — was rather soggy and overwritten and had a horrible ending (horrible because it didn’t fit the characters and was unrealistic, not because I didn’t like it). The movie, with Robert Redford and Kristen Scott Thomas, was not bad. It had to dump much of the leaden prose, had a better ending, and starred actors who were able to breathe life into the characters. Apologies to any among you who loved the book.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

Azteclady, I know what you mean about changes and cut scenes. What I find is that sometimes I need to watch the film several times; then I get over the changes and can better appreciate it on its own merits. The 2005 P&P worked that way for me; I liked it better on second viewing.

Jane, agree that author involvement can help. I liked the Emma Thompson S&S a lot but I recently caught up to the new S&S and thought it was very good, too. Liked the Edward character better than Hugh Grant’s version, actually. Could just be me.

Good points, Susan/Dc! I enjoyed much of the Horse Whisperer but also hated the ending. Critics of romance complain that we unnaturally twist things to create a happy ending; in this case it felt to me it was unnaturally twisted to make it tragic when in my opinion they ought to have aimed for bittersweet. Maybe I’ll check out the film.