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10 Film Adaptations of Notts Novels

23 January 18 words: Ash Carter

Such is the strength of Nottingham’s literary offerings, many of ‘em have been transformed into spectacles for the silver screen. Here’s a rundown of our Screen Editor Ash Carter’s top ten picks...

Don Juan (1926)
Author: Lord Byron
“This is my legacy to you: beware of giving your love to women.”
When he wasn’t fighting in the Greek War of Independence, swimming the Hellespont or dying from malaria, Notts boy George Gordon Byron was pretty handy with a quill. His magnum opus – the seventeen canto-spanning epic poem Don Juan – was duly given the big screen treatment in 1926, starring the “greatest living American tragedian” John Barrymore. Although featuring no spoken dialogue, Don Juan was the first feature-length film to utilise the Vitaphone sound-on-disc sound system with synchronised score and sound effects. It also holds the record for the most on-screen kisses in film history, with 191 in total; that’s one every 53 seconds.

Brighton Rock (1947)
Author: Graham Greene
“Here’s the truth. I hate you, you little slut. You make me sick.”
He was born in Hertfordshire and died in Switzerland, but Graham Greene spent enough time in Nottingham to warrant the council slapping up a blue plaque on Upper Parliament Street in 1996. Not bad for a man who once said that the city, “makes one want a mental and physical bath every quarter of an hour.” A cornerstone of the British gangster film noir genre, Brighton Rock has become an iconic part of this country’s cinematic history, not least due to Richard Attenborough’s pitch-perfect performance as psychotic burgeoning crime figure, Pinky.

Peter Pan (1953)
Author: JM Barrie
“Now, think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings.”
Some suggest JM Barrie, who worked for the Nottingham Journal during his early career, took inspiration for Peter Pan from a street urchin he saw on Clifton Grove, and that Neverland was based on the Arboretum. At first a play in 1904, and later a novel in 1911, Barrie’s most famous work was given the Disney treatment in 1953. Although financially successful, Walt Disney was said to have been dissatisfied with the final film, claiming Peter Pan was cold and unlikeable. To this, Barrie responded that Pan was originally written as a heartless sociopath and the original ending was much more macabre. Maybe it was based on Nottingham, after all.

Sons and Lovers (1960)
Author: DH Lawrence
“If you could help me… teach me not to be ashamed.”
As Nottingham’s most famous literary son, DH Lawrence’s legacy can still be seen all over the city, with museums and research centres bearing his name. The trailer for the 1960 film adaptation of Sons and Lovers begins, “The book that started a revolution in its bold and fearless writing about the many faces of love.” So bold and fearless, in fact, that roughly eighty passages were removed by Lawrence’s editor. The film was nominated for six Oscars, winning one for cinematography. At twenty minutes and fourteen seconds, Trevor Howard’s performance remains the shortest to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in the Leading Role.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
Author: Alan Sillitoe
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down!”
The story that influenced British music from The Smiths to the Arctic Monkeys, both the novel and subsequent film captured the zeitgeist of teen disillusionment perfectly. Sillitoe’s tale is as Nottingham as they come: Arthur Seaton, a working-class machinist at the Raleigh factory, is determined not to be restricted by a life of domestic slavery like his parents, whom he describes as “dead from the neck up.” Karel Reisz’s film, which starred Albert Finney as Seaton, was named as the fourteenth Best British Film in a BFI poll in 1999, and is heralded as a keystone of the British New Wave.

The Third Man (1949)
Author: Graham Greene
“Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”
Despite appearing on every DVD, poster or book relating to the film, Orson Welles actually only spent a week filming The Third Man, and has very minimal screen time. In fact, those aren’t even his hands seen gripping the sewer bars in close-up as he’d already left the set. The true credit for the film comes from the perfect triumvirate of Greene’s beautiful script, Carol Reed’s innovative direction, and the expressionist, atmospheric cinematography of Robert Krasker. In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Third Man as the greatest British film of all time.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
Author: Alan Sillitoe
“Running’s always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police.”
Sillitoe adapted his own short story into the script for Tony Richardson’s 1962 film, which tells the story of the rebellious Colin (Tom Courtenay in his debut role), who is sentenced to live in a borstal for robbing a bakery. Colin sees his status rise within the institute due to his prowess as a long-distance runner under the favorable eye of Governor Michael Redgrave, causing Colin to reevaluate the cost of his personal autonomy. A bleak, harsh look at the elitist Britain of the fifties and sixties that cemented Sillitoe’s reputation as the voice of a disillusioned, rebellious generation.

Women in Love (1969)
Author: DH Lawrence
“Do you know what it is to suffer when you’re with a woman? It tears you like a silk.”
That dirty devil DH Lawrence makes another appearance, this time with Ken Russell’s adaptation of his twenties novel, Women in Love. Banned in Turkey for that nude wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, which almost didn’t happen due to the two actors apprehensiveness surrounding the comparable sizes of their schlongs. A drunken night of comparison revealed that there was very little difference, and the scene went ahead. Glenda Jackson’s Academy Award win also marked the first time an actress had won an Oscar for a role that included nudity.

Enigma (2001)
Author: Robert Harris
“I like numbers, because with numbers, truth and beauty are the same thing.”
Born and raised in Notts, prolific writer Robert Harris saw his 1995 novel about a young British mathematician (loosely based on Alan Turing) trying to break the Germans’ “Enigma” code during the Second World War turned into a major motion picture in 2001. With a script adapted by Tom Stoppard, direction from Michael Apted and a cast that included Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott and Tom Hollander, the film was made partly in response to the sublimely shite U-571, in which the Enigma machine was captured solely by Americans.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2015)
Author: Susanna Clarke
“We will both soon be dead. There will be no leisure for reading.”
Not strictly a movie, but who ever heard of a list that ended at nine? Susanna Clarke’s story tells of an alternative world during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, in which two men use magic to help England. Clarke’s original came out in 2004 and won her a Hugo Award before being made into a well received BBC mini-series starring Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren. And, as if to bring this entire list full circle, Jonathan Strange was based, in part, on Lord Byron. Boom.  

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