“The book is always better”. This is a statement I have lived by for a long while. TV shows and films never ever get the right cast, they almost never include the scenes or dialogue you loved in the book. And of course, adaptations never have the detail you crave from a good paperback.
However, there are many series out there that have done the books justice, sometimes making changes you never realised you needed, or wanted, until you watched the show. Here is my list of some of the best feminist literature I have read that also has a brilliant small screen adaptation, even if the producers make a few changes here and there.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
The Handmaid’s Taleis set in a dystopian near-future America in which a totalitarian government has made all women who can bear children into handmaids, at the mercy and subjugation of the patriarchy. It is a novel about the removal of women’s individuality and independence. And its TV adaptation is phenomenal.
Starring Elisabeth Moss as protagonist Offred/June, the show remains faithful to Atwood’s novel, telling the story of the declining birth-rate that forces fertile women to bear children for wealthy men and their barren wives. However, there are differences that make this adaptation, in some ways, much more feminist in tone than the book. For example, June takes to the streets to participate in women’s marches. There are also much more diverse characters than what appear in the book.
The show also goes beyond the original novel with three seasons in total (so far). This makes the adaptation all that better as while in the book, Offred is a passive character, the show has the time and the space to explore June’s feisty side, making her more headstrong and likeable in the process.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Earlier this year, Rooney’s novel gained a LOT more popularity due to Hulu’s small screen adaptation. And, like everyone else, I was just as obsessed with both the show and the novel. The show is incredibly faithful to its source material, following the complex love story of Marianne and Connell from a small town in Ireland. It explores the same feminist, interesting themes the novel examines as we watch these young teenagers navigate life through to young adulthood, struggling to better understand themselves, society and one another.
But the show does have its differences. One of the big changes is that in the novel, we spend a lot of time exploring Marianne’s relationship with Lukas with whom she shares a BDSM relationship. It is part of this relationship we see Marianne’s true belief that she is not worthy of love as she is portrayed as nothing but a mere submissive subject. This is a big part of the novel. However, on screen, this was one of the quickest parts of the show, by-passing it in almost 10-20 minutes. It’s less explored, quickly moving from the snow-filled scenery of Sweden to the quick snapshots of Marianne tied up. This is a real shame as it is such a part of her own personal development after the breakup.
Yet, despite this, the show still stands to have a very distinct feminist tone that Rooney captures brilliantly in her writing.
Little Fires Everywhereby Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhereis possibly one of the most refreshing feminist novels of our time. Following two families living in 1990s Shaker Heights, it explores the importance of motherhood, sexuality class differences, alongside very important racial issues. It has excellently developed characters that bring to life the intrigue and compelling narrative of domestic drama.
And Reese Witherspoon has gone and done it again, bringing us a fabulous adaptation of the best-selling book. The show brings to life the difficulties of parenthood and the class and racial tensions of Shaker Heights that fills the pages of the novel fantastically. However, it does have its differences. In Celeste’s novel, Mia is portrayed as asexual and has never seen a man naked. The show, however, portrays Mia’s sexuality differently, exploring her as a mother who has sex with “whomever she wants, whenever she wants.” This isn’t a bad change, so to say, but it is interesting to compare the differences between the two representations of Mia’s sexuality and the shows approach to her open and independent sexual nature.
On the other hand, Izzy’s sexuality is explored in much more detail in the show, hinting that she may be gay. In the book, this is never explored. As a result, it is refreshing to see Izzy’s development as a woman not only isolated from the rest of society because of her artistic individuality but also because of her identification as a lesbian. While there are differences, the screen adaptation brings to life the powerful feminist messages of Celeste novel and I 100% recommend to any woman looking to read a book or watch a show about women coming to terms with their identity as a mother and what that means for their future.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or Phryne Fisher Mystery Series, by Kerry Greenwood
Another brilliant TV adaptation of an amazing feminist novel is Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, adapted from Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher Mystery series. These books and the screen edition follow an independently wealthy Phryne Fisher as she tracks thieves, solves murders and rescues women. For those looking for a bit of murder mystery with a bad-ass female lead, these novels and the subsequent TV show are your cup of tea. Also – the costumes they got for the show are beautiful. I was drooling. There’s also the Amazon Prime adaptation of Queen Sugarby Natalie Baszille, created by the wonderful Ava Duvernay and can you believe it, Oprah Winfrey? Exploring the story of three siblings who move to Louisiana to claim an 800-acre sugarcane farm left by their father, every episode of the show is directed by a different woman, a testament to the wonderful Natalie Baszile herself.
These are only a small selection of some of the best feminist novels that have equally as amazing TV adaptations, which, while changing some elements, remain true to the power of women and the power of their narrative experiences on the small screen. There are also many film adaptations that do feminist novels justice as well, but that’s another blog for another day!
Photo by Daisy Edgar Jones on Instagram.