The best upcoming book-to-screen adaptations, from The Pursuit of Love to The Vanishing Half

Katie Rosseinsky and Jessie Thompson
·10-min read
<p>Lily James and Emily Beecham star in the BBC’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love</p> (BBC)

Lily James and Emily Beecham star in the BBC’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love

(BBC)

Common wisdom has it that the book is usually better than the screen adaptation. And who doesn’t love the smug delight of being able to say ‘I read it first’? None of those terrible special film edition covers on your shelves, and the chance to be able to declare ‘that’s not how I pictured her at all’.

Last year, Sally Rooney’s second novel Normal People translated into one of the biggest TV hits of the year, but it was all the more enjoyable if you were able to make clever clogs comments about how you imagined Marianne and Connell when you read it ages ago. Amid another strict and lengthy lockdown, now’s the perfect chance to get stuck into a bunch of brilliant books before they land on screens. Because let’s face it, reading and watching TV is pretty much all we do now.

If you’re keen to make ‘read it before the TV show’ your new reading resolution, we’ve rounded up the best upcoming page-to-screen adaptations.

Nine Perfect Strangers

We already know that Nicole Kidman + Liane Moriarty is a fabulous combinationPA
We already know that Nicole Kidman + Liane Moriarty is a fabulous combinationPA

After the runaway success of Big Little Lies, it makes perfect sense that Nicole Kidman should bring the latest novel from Liane Moriarty to the small screen. The actress will produce and star in Nine Perfect Strangers, which follows a group of guests attempting to catch a breather at a dubious 10-day wellness retreat overseen by the elusive Masha (Kidman). Stranded in the middle of nowhere, checking out is not an option. The eight-part show marks Kidman’s latest collaboration with BLL and The Undoing scribe David E. Kelley; it’s set to debut on Hulu later this year, with details of a UK broadcaster hopefully following soon. KR

The Pursuit of Love

Everyone’s favourite Nancy Mitford novel has never quite had the adaptation it deserved, so we’re hoping that this classy looking BBC version will finally do it justice. Based on Mitford’s own much-talked about life and family, it charts Linda’s search for love against the backdrop of the Second World War. It’s directed and adapted by Emily Mortimer and the cast is top notch, with Lily James playing Linda, alongside Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox and Dominic West. JT

Klara and the Sun

The long-awaited eighth novel from Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro has only just been released, but the film rights have already been snapped up. Telling the story of Klara, an ‘artificial friend’ hoping to be chosen by a customer, it’s a compassionate study of what it might be like to live alongside machines. Ishiguro’s previous novels Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day have made brilliant films, and David Heyman is on board as a producer (previous films include everything from Paddington 2 to Marriage Story) - so we’re expecting great things. JT

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

This mind-boggling, compulsive page turner from Stuart Turton has been picked up by Netflix as part of the streaming giant’s new slate of UK original productions. A high-concept, intricately structured murder mystery set at a country mansion, it plays out like an Agatha Christie story as told by Christopher Nolan. After heiress Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at a society ball, the day of her death will repeat itself over and over again - until one of the guests can crack the case and break the cycle. It’ll be adapted by Sophie Petzal, the screenwriter behind psychological thriller Blood. KR

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday could be the period drama we’ve been longing forLionsgate
Mothering Sunday could be the period drama we’ve been longing forLionsgate

The sumptuous big-screen period drama that we’ve been longing for should – hopefully – be landing on our screens this year. Filming for the adaptation of Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday was wrapped during the pandemic, featuring Colin Firth and the royal reunion of Josh O’Connor and Olivia Colman in the cast. Set in 1924, a maid in the Niven’s household goes to see her lover for one last time before he gets married to someone else. Meanwhile, the Nivens are celebrating their son’s engagement… ah. JT

The Essex Serpent

Set in the late 1800s, Sarah Perry’s hit novel about a woman who becomes fascinated by a local myth about a serpent-like creature is being turned into a series by Apple TV. With Claire Danes taking on the role of Cora Seaborne (Keira Knightley was previously cast but left the project) and Clio Barnard on directing duties, we’re excited about this one already. JT

My Name Is Leon

Bush Theatre artistic director Lynette Linton will make her TV directing debut with this adaptation of Kit de Waal’s acclaimed debut novel. Set in 1980s Birmingham and telling the story of a young boy taken into care, it will be broadcast on BBC with an impressive cast that includes Malachi Kirby, Sir Lenny Henry, Christopher Eccleston, Olivia Williams and Monica Dolan. JT

Anatomy of a Scandal

Netflix’s adaptation of Sarah Vaughan’s 2018 novel, which is currently being filmed in London, boasts prestige TV credentials by the bucketload. David E. Kelley will helm the series alongside former House of Cards showrunner Melissa James Gibson, with Sienna Miller and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery leading the cast. Vaughan’s book follows an ambitious young politician (played by Rupert Friend) whose marriage begins to unravel when he is accused of sexual assault. Miller plays his wife, while Dockery is a hotshot barrister who specialises in #MeToo-esque cases. KR

The Last Letter From Your Lover

Shailene Woodley and Callum Turner star as Sixties star-crossed loversSTUDIOCANAL / NETFLIX
Shailene Woodley and Callum Turner star as Sixties star-crossed loversSTUDIOCANAL / NETFLIX

Based on the novel by JoJo Moyes, The Last Letter From Your Lover tells two interwoven love stories. Felicity Jones plays Ellie, a journalist who discovers a cache of letters dating back to the Sixties, documenting a forbidden romance between the wife of a wealthy businessman (Shailene Woodley) and the reporter assigned to profile him (Callum Turner). She soon becomes fixated upon finding out how their story ended, an obsession that prompts a love story of her own to unfold. KR

Daisy Jones and the Six

Reigning queen of book-to-screen Reese Witherspoon will be producing Amazon’s adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s wildly popular novel, which the actress previously championed through her online book club. Set against the backdrop of Seventies Los Angeles and written as an oral history, it charts the rise and fall of a fictional rock band (the show will feature original music, naturally). Riley Keough takes the title role, joined by Sam Claflin, Suki Waterhouse and Camila Morrone. KR

Deep Water

No one writes a psychopath better than Patricia Highsmith, and her classic novel Deep Water is a case in point. Full of suspense, it centres on married couple Melissa and Vic. Melissa is a flirt who flaunts her affairs. Vic is jealous and therefore possibly a bit murder-y. Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas play the dysfunctional pair in the big screen version, which is ready for release this summer. JT

Conversations With Friends

Will Conversations With Friends drive us as wild as Normal People?Jonny L Davies
Will Conversations With Friends drive us as wild as Normal People?Jonny L Davies

BBC Three’s adaptation of Normal People kept us all captivated last spring, and series director Lenny Abrahamson is now set to bring Rooney’s 2017 debut to our screens. Conversations With Friends puts the complex dynamic between college students and former lovers Frances and Bobbi under the microscope as their lives become entangled with those of glamorous married couple Nick and Melissa. Alice Birch (who co-wrote Normal People’s script with Rooney) will return to write a number of episodes. Casting was recently announced, with Joe Alwyn and Jemima Kirke playing Nick and Melissa, Sasha Lane as Bobbi, and the lesser known Alison Oliver as Frances. The latter can surely expect her career to go stratospheric, a la Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. KR

Passing

The directorial debut from actress Rebecca Hall, Passing is based on the Twenties novel by Nella Larsen. Set in Harlem, it charts the fallout when two childhood friends reunite as adults. Both women are mixed race, but one of them has been ‘passing’ as a white woman in Europe, with her husband unaware of her racial heritage. Hall has said she was drawn to Larsen’s book while reckoning with her own family history, and the “mystery surrounding [her] biracial grandfather on [her] American mother’s side.” Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and Moonlight’s Andre Holland are set to star. KR

The Power

This Margaret Atwood-esque novel by Naomi Alderman, about a world where women become more powerful due to their ability to electrocute people (sorry men), won the Women’s Prize in 2016. It then received the very high honour of being selected as one of Barack Obama’s favourite books that year. Now it’s getting a major adaptation for Amazon Prime, with a fab cast that includes Leslie Mann, John Leguizamo and rising stars Ria Zmitrowicz and Heather Agyepong. JT

The Vanishing Half

The screen rights for Brit Bennett’s second novel were hotly contestedEmma Trim
The screen rights for Brit Bennett’s second novel were hotly contestedEmma Trim

Swathes of readers and critics alike chose Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half as one of the best books of 2020, a pageturner with huge political relevance in a year of Black Lives Matter protests. Following the divergent paths of two black twins in a small American town, one of whom is able to pass as white, it was snapped up by HBO for a reportedly seven-figure sum in a 17-way battle for the rights. No casting is yet announced, but Bennett is on board as an executive producer. JT

Such a Fun Age

The screen rights for Kiley Reid’s brilliant Booker-longlisted debut were nabbed before the novel was even published, acquired by writer and director Lena Waithe. Although little is yet known about the adaptation, Reid said her classmates at Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop told her they’d already cast the film roles as soon as they read it. The book tells the story of Emira, a black woman who babysits for a white family. When someone in a shop wrongly assumes she has kidnapped the family’s daughter, footage of the confrontation makes its way online and promptly goes viral. JT

Life After Life

It’s already been proven that Kate Atkinson’s novels translate into gripping telly – Jason Isaacs grumpily won the nation’s hearts as her Yorkshire detective Jackson Brodie. Now her award-winning 2013 novel Life After Life, in which protagonist Ursula Todd dies and is reborn again at pivotal moments throughout history, is being turned into a four-part BBC drama. John Crowley, who brought Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn to the screen, is directing. JT

Death on the Nile

Poiroit’s giant moustache returnsPhoto by Rob Youngson
Poiroit’s giant moustache returnsPhoto by Rob Youngson

Kenneth Branagh and his frankly terrifying Poirot moustache will, we hope, be back for another glossy adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous works later this year (originally slated for release last autumn, it was one of many titles pulled from the winter cinema schedules due to the pandemic). As with Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express, this one boasts a random assortment of stars, from genuine Hollywood royalty (Annette Bening) to British comedians (French and Saunders and… Russell Brand), and is probably best enjoyed with your tongue in your cheek. KR

The White Tiger

A feature-length adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker-winning debut lands on Netflix later this month, and our film critic Charlotte O’Sullivan says the page-to-screen transition works wonderfully. Charting the rise of an initially lowly driver in Delhi, she compared it to Oscar-winner Parasite, writing that “it’ll keep bums on sofas and spark debate because it’s both happy to offend and keen to please.” JT