The Top Ten Film/ TV Adaptations of Crime Fiction Books

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Adapting a beloved book or series of books for television or film can be tough, especially as every reader has their own idea of how it should be done. As the latest adaptation of a revered novel, The Girl on the Train, hits cinemas around the world, I decided to showcase my top ten adaptations of other famous crime novels.

  1. Dark Places: Much like The Girl on the Train, Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl was a smash hit which flew off the shelfs; however, it is Flynn’s other novels which are real masterpieces, and Dark Places is one of the best. The film adaptation starring Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Chloë Grace Moretz is a full of stylish shots and snappy dialogue, showing a real willingness to show the grimier side of life, paralleling the novel itself.
  1. Lord Peter Wimsey: The TV adaptation of Sayers’ famous novels was a triumph from start to finish, featuring the wonderful performance of Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter himself, wonderfully supported by Glyn Houston as the ever faithful Bunter. Carmichael does well not to overdo the humour in this series, portraying the gentleman detective with just the right nuance and humility to make him a true representation of the man Sayers envisioned.
  1. Agatha Christie’s Poirot: David Suchet’s excellent performance easily eclipses that of the previous actors who have tried to capture the quirky, curious and fiercely intelligent Belgium detective (including the second best, the great Peter Ustinov). Coupled with strong dialogue, attention to detail and stunning costumes, this excellent TV series is a great introduction to Christie’s famous detective and his ‘Little Grey Cells’, as well as being the perfect way to indulge further for those who are already committed fans.
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  1. The Talented Mr Ripley: Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thriller is expertly adapted by Anthony Minghella, featuring brilliant performances from Matt Damon and Jude Law. Whilst other films based on the later novels were less successful, The Talented Mr Ripley offers the perfect combination of raw emotion and cinematic flare, making it a definite must watch.
  1. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple: There are a number of adaptations of Christie’s classic detective, but in my opinion none can beat the Julia McKenzie, who is less haughty but more cerebral and witty than some of the others, encapsulating the humour of the character whilst still being able to deliver a scathing barb when required.
  1. Wallander: There have been three screen portrayals of Henning Mankell’s famed, morbid detective, however the very best stars Swedish thespian Krister Henriksson is truly outstanding. Kenneth Branagh’s tough and depressed Wallander is often dry and monotonous, Rolf Lassgård’s is slow and dry, although it is the most faithful to the books. Henriksson’s series, which features screenplays by Mankell himself, is a true masterpiece; the stunning natural beauty of Skåne is an additional character as it is in the books, brooding in the background as the detective riles against the horrors of the world around him.
  1. Sherlock: Whilst many other screen adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective and his ever faithful accomplice have miscast one of these two central characters, the BBC’s famous modern day incarnation of the eccentric Sherlock Holmes perfectly casts both, with Martin Freeman’s Watson providing the perfect everyman foil for Benedict Cumberbatch’s tense, dangerous Sherlock. Stylistically this is one of the best TV shows around, and as such it is no surprise that it has a cult following around the world.
  1. Inspector Morse: Clever, witty and cerebral, John Thaw plans the titular detective with an almost unnerving ease, whilst his sidekick, the ever faithful Sergeant Lewis is transformed from a diligent, elderly welshman into a young and excitable Geordie. Despite this key alteration this popular TV series is remarkably faithful to the books, and as many of the Colin Dexter himself had a hand in its production there is no doubt that this is the perfect for show for both fans and those who want to be.
  1. Endeavour: Perhaps (dare I say it) slightly better than the original Inspector Morse series, and certainly better than the slightly stilted Lewis, Endeavour provides an insight into the man before the books even started, although there are many links to Dexter’s novels which make this the ideal series for a die hard Morse fan.
  1. The Big Sleep: The famous film adaption of Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart portrays the humour and wit that captured the reader’s imagination as no other incarnation of the great American detective in a way that no other cinematic version of Marlowe has ever achieved. The sexual chemistry between the two, which sparked an affair akin at the time to the modern scandal that was Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith, helps to ramp up the tension and create a truly electrifying film.
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