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The 22 greatest TV adaptations

6 March 2016

From The Telegraph:

21. Roots (1977, ABC)

The TV adaptation of Alex Haley’s novel came so swiftly after the book’s publication that the two fused together in one fearsome campaign. The harrowing tale of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century African sold into American slavery, has an epic, cinematic quality, a terrific eye for detail, and a campaigning spirit that hits you in the gut.

. . . .

17. Parade’s End (2012, BBC)

Tom Stoppard’s adaptation didn’t bother trying to re-invent Ford Madox Ford’s fiercely modernist war-time tetralogy as a populist hit. Instead Stoppard and director Susanna White – who had worked with David Simon on The Wire – went with the spirit of post-cable television and asked the audience to join one or two more dots than they were used to joining. Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall have never been better and at a time when the nation was ensnared in Downton fever, this was the perfect highbrow rejoinder.

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13. Lonesome Dove (1989, CBS)

This adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s 1985 novel about two retired Texas rangers who set out on a cattle drive across the Great Plains was one of the first to show that television could succeed where film could not. Originally developed as an idea for a Seventies film with John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, the screenplay became a novel which became a hugely successful four-part miniseries, starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, which won seven Emmys.

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10. Wolf Hall (2015, BBC)

The historical novels about Tudor England had already caused a sensation by winning two Booker prizes. But when Hilary Mantel’s masterworks Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were adapted for the screen, meticulous authenticity and authoritative acting produced a second triumph. Our greatest stage actor, Mark Rylance, played the scheming Thomas Cromwell with a humanity so intense we were all on his side. Damien Lewis was a flawed yet terrifying king.

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7. The Jewel in the Crown (1984, ITV)

Three years after Brideshead Revisited, Granada blew their budget once more with this adaptation of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet. Aside from wonderful production values, what makes this great is that actors such as Peggy Ashcroft, Tim Pigott-Smith and Art Malik flesh out their characters with a terrific psychological awareness, turning the dying days of Empire into a feverish world of paranoia and deceit.

. . . .

4. The Forsyte Saga (1967, ITV)

The first major costume drama on British television, this 26-part adaptation of John Galsworthy’s novels about an upper middle class London family was so popular that churches changed the time of evensong so that people could fit it in. It may move at too stately a pace for modern tastes but its clarification of Galsworthy’s turgid prose, in particular getting to the emotional core of the complex Soames (the superb Eric Porter), makes it compelling to this day.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

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9 Comments to “The 22 greatest TV adaptations”

  1. Fantastic list. I’ve seen quite a few of the older ones — own copies of Jewel in the Crown and I, Cladius. But where is Gormenghast?

  2. I, along with six million others, am currently enjoying an adaptation of The Night Manager by John le Carré. It’s very good.

  3. Laura Montgomery

    I liked the book Wolf Hall but couldn’t get into the TV show.

    The Night Manager? I’ll have to check that out.

  4. Amazing how obscure some of this list is–for Americans, and that’s a shame. I’d like to see several more of them.

    Personally, I’d move Lonesome Dove closer to the top of the list.

  5. Friday Night Lights should be on the list.

    • I agree, but the list was compiled by Brits. Notice that they attribute Game of Thrones to Sky Atlantic, vice HBO.

      IMO Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should not be near the top, perhaps not on the list at all; and I, Claudius should top the list.

      Besides, the list was compiled by innumerates. There are only 21 entries, not 22.

  6. I thought Shogun was pretty amazing (not on the list). I don’t know how it stands up against all the bells and whistles of book-to-television but I do remember that after watching it with my parents, I read the book cover to cover when I was eleven or twelve.

  7. Al the Great and Powerful

    Read the book, thought it was okay. Later on, when I studied Asian History, the Suck Fairy came and stole it away. Ever after, I have chosen NOT to study the historic period and details of any Clavell novel that I like.

    I knew this list wasn’t written for me when I saw Roots listed…

  8. Okay, so the number one is pretty much indisputable. I’d put The Pallisers in there somewhere. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy was a sensation, and brilliant TV that people actually paid notice to.

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