problem with adapting John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's
Woman was that of the active role the author plays in the
book. To have the author on screen, talking to us, as it were,
seemed to Karel Reisz and me to be impossible. Karel solved this
dilemma brilliantly, I thought, by proposing that the actors playing
Sarah Woodruff and Charles Smithson in 1860 also play the actors
themselves in the present, so that the two narratives run concurrently
and the perspectives constantly shift. The two narratives, in
other words, complement and illuminate each other. The screenplay
took a long time to write but was very rewarding.
Elizabeth Bowen's shadowy, dense wartime novel
The Heat of the Day, a spider's web of dubious loyalties
and betrayals, I found compelling. It was shot by Christopher
Morahan for television and the framework of blacked-out London
was most persuasive. Patricia Hodge gave a very intelligent and
touching performance, Michael Gambon one of his very best and
Michael York his best. The film was shown at 10pm on a Saturday
night the day after Boxing Day and about three people saw it.
It was not reviewed in the press and was never shown again.
Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers is
a truly frightening book. It slid onto the screen. Paul Schrader
moved about a dark Venice almost on tiptoe and the deepening magnetism
of evil (with a smiling face) I think is truly disconcerting.
I found in it an echo of silent movies where the audience would
cry: "Don't go through that door!" But the two victims did go
through that door and the fearsome Christopher Walken ate them
I had wanted to have a crack at The Trial
for many years and the BBC finally gave me the opportunity. David
Jones and I decided to set it in pre-first world war Prague, where
and when the world appeared to be solid and stable. The growing
shadow of another world, seeping into K's consciousness, I thought
was very well conveyed in the film, which seemed to me a rich
piece of work altogether.
I adapted Karen Blixen's The Dreaming Child
a couple of years ago and the film has not yet been made. The
short story is wonderfully elusive and mysterious and I believe
it will make a very arresting and affecting film. I hope it comes
I have never written an original film. But I've
enjoyed adapting other people's books very much. Altogether, I
have written twenty-four screenplays. Two were never shot. Three
were rewritten by others. Two have not yet been filmed. Seventeen
(including four adaptations of my own plays) were filmed as written.
I think that's unusual. I certainly understand adapting novels
for the screen to be a serious and fascinating craft.
13 September 2000