“So,” I said, turning to my friend as the credits rolled across the movie screen. “Did you like it?”
The “it” I was referring to, was the movie adaptation of the British TV series broadcast as part of PBS Masterpiece Theatre. The series ran for six years, following the lives of an aristocratic family and their domestic servants. It was standard Masterpiece fare, in being character-driven and rich in visuals and dialogue along with being a guilty pleasure. Think, The Young & the Restless meets The Crown.
My friend’s reply was typical Lady Mary. “It wasn’t great, but good enough. It felt like a longer version of one more episode.” My friend and I were a good dichotomy for the typical target audience for Downton Abbey. While she was a loyal royal watcher from the beginning, I came along late in the game, hard-binging six seasons on Amazon Prime. And knowing it’s audience, the movie trailer didn’t pretend to market itself as a vehicle for anyone who wasn’t a fan of the TV series.
But should “Good enough” be an acceptable review? Why is it that movies seldom capture the essence of that unique story that catches fire with readers and viewers? Too often, the magic of a carefully drawn-out story just doesn’t lend itself to the 2-hour adaptation on the movie screen.
Let’s look at another story that caught fire several years ago, when journalist, Jeanette Walls wrote of her life, in the memoir, The Glass Castle. This book spent over 260 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and it’s hard to find a book club that didn’t devour this classic, or a reader that didn’t bond with the story on some level. Yet, when the movie version of The Glass Castle finally debuted, starring a strong cast consisting of Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, the story fell flat, perhaps suffering from having to leave too much heart on the editing floor.
Sometimes, we should leave the best stories in their original packaging. It is a rare instance when the written word transfers so eloquently to the movie screen. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. But more often, the result resembles my feelings when turning off the TV after viewing El Camino on Netflix, a movie picking up immediately after the last scene in the incredibly rewarding last episode of Breaking Bad. While it was nice to see Jessie, our antihero again, did we need to revisit what was already the best ending ever for any TV series?
And yet, it can certainly be argued that the best movies come from successful screenplays. Local author, Bonnie Jo Campbell is currently touring across the country as the film adaptation of her novel, Once Upon a River makes an appearance at many film festivals. We can only hope it pays a visit soon to our area.
Here’s a thought… maybe some endings are best left alone, even if it was nice catching up with the Crawleys in Downton Abbey. And I do miss the gang from Mad Men…
Heidi McCrary is a writer and a regular contributor to Women’s LifeStyle. Look for her debut novel, Chasing North Star in the fall of 2020. Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.net and fb.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor