The books to read before you watch the screen adaptation

If 2019 was the year of the big-screen biopic, 2020 is set to be the year of TV and film adaptations. From centuries-old classics to recent bestsellers, KATIE BERRINGTON highlights the novels you should read before you watch…


Normal People

BBC Three and Hulu are bringing Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel to television this year. In a small town in rural Ireland, teenagers Marianne and Connell exist in different social spheres, keeping their indelible magnetism to each other concealed from their peers. Their roles change when they both go to Trinity College Dublin, but the bond between them only intensifies. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal appear in the much-awaited adaptation.

Little Fires Everywhere

The captivating 2017 novel from Celeste Ng has been given the television treatment, courtesy of Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. The Hollywood heavyweights both star in and executive produce the eight-part adaptation for Hulu. Following two families living in Shaker Heights, Ohio, its plot is centered on the mystery of a burning house, as themes of morality and motherhood are explored.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s stellar third book will be made into a 10-episode limited series for HBO Max this year, starring Lupita Nyong’o. The novel earned Adichie the US National Book Critics Circle award in 2014. Dissecting themes of relationships, identity and race in Nigeria, the UK and America, it tells the story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who moves to Philadelphia to study, parting from her teenage love, Obinze, who goes to London, as their lives take different challenging paths.


Anya Taylor-Joy stars as the title character of this 1815 novel, in the latest Jane Austen adaptation to hit cinemas (Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in the 1996 adaptation). Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor and Miranda Hart round out the high-profile cast in Autumn de Wilde’s feature-directing debut. Emma went on general release in most countries this month, but it’s still worth a read before you watch the movie.

Anya Taylor-Joy (right) and Mia Goth in Emma


Daphne du Maurier’s gothic thriller was the subject of a film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock (with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in the main roles), winning an Oscar for Best Picture in 1940, but, 80 years on, it is set for a Netflix update. Lily James and Armie Hammer take the leads, with Kristin Scott Thomas, Keeley Hawes and Ann Dowd also in the cast. The well-known plot presents the newly wedded Mr and Mrs de Winter as they begin their life together, and how the ‘ghost’ of de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, and her mysterious death haunts them.

The Luminaries

Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize-winning novel is set in Victorian-era New Zealand, against the backdrop of the 1860s gold rush. A tale of love and adventure, mystery and murder, Catton herself has adapted her acclaimed book into a six-part series, featuring Eva Green and Eve Hewson.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Dev Patel takes the title role in a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ Victorian classic, interpreted for the big screen by Armando Iannucci (and also starring Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton and Ben Whishaw). The film is on general release in most countries but, as far as pre-movie reads go, the novel is considered one of Dickens’ greatest works, covering a first-person (and semi-autobiographical) journey from childhood to middle age.