This is the first in what will likely be a six part series over the next two weeks on film/television adaptations that have been made of Canadian literature. This first entry is one of two posts on theatrically released films. Some are well known (The English Patient, Life of Pi), while some are unbelievably obscure. These are in no particular order, other than the order that I came across them on my book shelf.
The 2010 adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s magnum opus requires no introduction. A critical and commercial success, the film earned major award nominations; Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for his performance of the title character and Dustin Hoffman was widely praised for his role. This is a fantastic, five-star, film that captures the spirit of the novel and nails the book’s most memorable scenes. | Trailer | IMDB | DVD
Away from Her
Perhaps one of the most heart-breaking movies I have ever seen. Sarah Polley’s 2006 adaptation of Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” received two Oscar nominations (Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay). The film takes a few liberties with the story but keeps the themes and characters intact. No matter how cold-hearted you may think you are, this story of a husband coming to terms with his wife’s Alzheimer’s will make you cry. | Trailer | IMDB | DVD
Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s 2012 adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel was a huge critical success, winning four Oscars and 42 other assorted awards. I have not yet seen this, but everyone I know who has watched it told me that it was one of the most visually stunning films they have seen. This is the third movie based on a Canadian book that has been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. | Trailer | IMDB | DVD
Angus, early in the film, says “I’ve been sober too long, Margaret; it’s kept me from thinking straight.” And so begins this tragic tale of the Cape Breton coal mines. Mort Ransen’s 1995 film is adapted from Sheldon Currie’s well-known novel The Glace Bay Miner’s Museum and casts Helena Bonham Carter in the lead role. I saw this movie many years ago and remember it as being watchable, but not great, although I know my wife really enjoyed it. Almost 10 years have passed between the time I saw the movie and finally read the book, so I can’t remember off the top of my head how faithful it was. As I was getting my links for the trailer, I saw that you can rent this on YouTube (that’s a thing now?) for $2.99 | Trailer | IMDB | DVD
The English Patient
The second film based on a Canadian book that was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and the only one to win the prize. Anthony Minghella wrote and directed this 1996 adaptation of the Governor General and Booker Prize winning Michael Ondaatje novel. The novel is told in a very non-linear fashion and much of the book is dedicated to getting into the heads of the various characters. This film was a huge critical and commercial success. I thought this film was ok, not great, but Minghella did a good job compressing this massive story into a 3 hour film. The book is a far more satisfying experience in this case. | Trailer | IMDB | DVD
Joshua Then and Now
This 1985 adaption, with a screenplay written by Mordecai Richler himself, has been on my list to-watch for years but it has to be one of the hardest films I’ve ever tried to find. Directed by longtime Richler friend Ted Kotcheff (who also directed Duddy Kravitz and wrote the NCL afterword to The Acrobats), this film has a strong cast, including James Woods and Alan Arkin. The novel is often seen as the most autobiographical of Richler’s novels, and, from what I’ve heard from the two people I know who have seen this, Woods takes on many of Richler’s mannerisms and idioms in his portrayal of Joshua Shapiro. As far as I can find, this movie has not been released on DVD, can only be found used on VHS on Amazon and is nowhere to be found online. Unfortunately, I don’t have a VCR anymore and my university’s library doesn’t have this title, so I guess it will be a while before I see this. | Trailer | IMDB | VHS
This is about an obscure movie as you can get. This 1981 Canadian film, directed by Claude Jutra, is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s second novel. Surfacing is one of my favorite books, certainly my favorite Atwood book. The film had a good sized budget for the time and place it was produced, $2,250,000. Unfortunately, the story didn’t translate well to film. The novel, about a group of campers on remote Canadian lake looking for one of the party’s missing father, is very psychological and difficult to capture in a dramatic fashion. It was interesting for me as a fan of the novel, but for someone watching it cold, it will likely be disappointing and quite dull. Of course, it is impossible to find, even more so than Joshua Then and Now. I saw it at my university’s library 7 years ago on a then 25 year old VHS tape (but I think they have manually copied it to a DVD since then); the only copy for sale is a VHS tape on Amazon…for $163.90 (try explaining that purchase to your wife). Don’t worry though, you really aren’t missing much. | Trailer (Cannot be found anywhere) | IMDB | VHS
The final six films in this category will be posted in the next couple days.