Over the years, classic tales from legendary British authors have proven to be quite valuable to Hollywood and the broader film industry. There have been some exceptions; C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles Of Narnia, for instance, have never been adequately adapted, and Shakespearean efforts have been hit or miss internationally (even if some more local British versions have been wonderful). But by and large, from Sherlock Holmes stories, to countless cinematic versions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to some more modern tales like the James Bond saga or even Harry Potter, writing out of the UK has been a treasure trove for filmmakers.
Below, we’re looking at some classic British tales that have not yet seen major modern adaptations, but would likely make for hits as well.
As stated above, major, big-budget Shakespearean adaptations on the international stage have been somewhat hit or miss. Most recently, a fairly serious effort at Macbeth was something of a disappointment, and because Netflix is stingy about its streaming numbers, word is still out on The King (a sort of amalgam of Shakespeare’s “Henriad” plays) – though critical reviews of the film were mixed.
That said, Shakespeare has also worked before on the silver screen, and Julius Caesar – widely viewed as one of his best and most loved plays – is still waiting on a major attempt. Versions of it have appeared on the BBC, and a 2012 Italian drama based on the play actually won top prize (the delightfully named Golden Bear) at the Berlin International Film Festival. But we really haven’t seen a star-studded adaptation aimed at mainstream appeal since the 1970 Julius Caesar starring the likes of Charlton Heston, Diane Rigg, and Christopher Lee.
It would seem to be about time for some ambitious director and willing studio to give it another go. Audiences always seem at least open to Roman-era epics, and to present one driven by the unrivalled language and timeless storytelling of Shakespeare might just result in a hit.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson has been turned into numerous films – but none of note since a 2006 low-budget effort, and before that, the 1940s! Most people in a modern audience might be vaguely aware of the nature of this timeless gothic tale, but likely have no impression of it whatsoever on the screen.
It’s actually video games that have perhaps kept the tale alive and relevant better than anything else. An early Nintendo game in 1988 and a 2001 computer game both presented the story at least somewhat faithfully. And today, you can find a Jekyll and Mr. Hyde game among the free slot game titles that are available from online casino providers. The developers behind these slot games have actually made a habit of designing themes based on old tales, from imitations of Disney princesses to other familiar gothic tales like The Invisible Man. It’s a means of drawing players in to what would otherwise be standard animated slots. The Jekyll and Hyde slot reel is a little more playful than the underlying story in its animated style, but does expose a modern audience to the general haunting, Victorian vibe.
How much these video games and slot sites have kept the story alive is impossible to say, but even for modern audiences that haven’t taken note, or haven’t ever read Stevenson’s novella, a faithful adaptation would work. A strong cast, dark but not fully horrifying tone, and steady pacing would make for an excellent film. Perhaps it could even serve to get Universal’s failed “Monsterverse” franchise back on track, given that it was initially planned as one of the installments.
The Life Of Henry VIII
In this case we’re not actually referring to a specific text from British history, but rather to the monarch himself: the gregarious, enigmatic Henry VIII. He’s been covered before, most recently by the wonderful Mark Rylance in 2015’s Wolf Hall, a BBC Two miniseries. He’s also loomed over projects like the 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl, as well as The Tudors on BBC and SHOWTIME. But we arguably haven’t seen anything approaching a modern biopic period piece about this most intriguing of monarchs.
Recent history indicates that a somewhat bold, quirky approach would stand a chance. The Favourite, a bizarre Yorgos Lanthimos masterpiece we included in our preview of 2018 films, wound up being one of the most interesting films of the last few years, despite its rollicking and unusual glimpse into the court of Queen Anne. Something similarly surprising surrounding Henry VIII could be very interesting.
We mentioned the Sherlock Holmes tales above among the successful adaptations from British storytellers. In a similar vein, we might consider Agatha Christie, who has seen numerous murder mysteries turned into fun films (and whose general style of mystery clearly influenced the Rian Johnson film Knives Out, which is becoming one of the most talked-about projects of late 2019). Given these successes, it seems only natural that someone should take a stab at The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.
Widely viewed as a foundational work in mystery writing – if not the very first true mystery novel – The Moonstone has within it all of the same storytelling elements that draw people into works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Christie. Yet it’s never really had its moment in cinema. There was an American film in the 1930s, and the BBC and various radio programs have adapted the text numerous times over the years. A big-budget modern film adaptation has never been attempted though, to our knowledge, and it would seem to have international hit potential.