Page to Screen: The Translation of Literary Texts to Film

Module code: EN3136

Module co-ordinator: Professor Sarah Knight

Over the last century, from the early years of moving pictures until the present day, directors and producers have turned literary texts into films. In this module you will explore how texts change when they are adapted for the cinema: reading set texts and watching the films based on these texts in parallel each week. Although the earliest literary text we will consider is from the Old Testament, and the latest from the mid-1950s, our film viewing will be more chronologically focused. We will concentrate, generally, on films released during the first half of the 20thcentury, when the medium of cinema was arguably at its most innovative, communal, and popular, in the years before the advent of television and private film rental. While focusing primarily on anglophone films made by companies based in the UK and USA, we will also consider parallel developments in the continental European cinema, particularly at the height of silent film-making during the 1920s.

We will investigate cinematic adaptations strongly indebted to the source text alongside more divergent adaptations that touch only fleetingly on their literary sources. Our broadly chronological approach will be determined by release dates of films, rather than by first publication of the literary sources. We will start by considering silent adaptations of literary texts made during the first two decades of the 20th century, such as Murnau's Faust (1926), based on Goethe's early 19th century play, and the Italian, American and British adaptations of Shakespeare's plays that are included in the British Film Institute's Silent Shakespeare collection.

We will then move to cinematic adaptations of the late 1930s and early 1940s based on arguably more populist texts written for children and within the 'romantic fiction' genre, such as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940). Moving on to adaptations rooted in the context of war, we will look at Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale (1944) as an extremely loose adaptation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and Laurence Olivier's near-propagandistic version of Shakespeare's Henry V (1944). We will then consider Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), based on a short story by Graham Greene, a film set firmly in the aftermath of war. Produced in the same year was Cecil B DeMille's typically grand-scale and escapist film Samson and Delilah, very loosely based on the biblical Book of Judges, a consummate example of the 'sword and sandal' epic.

We will also look at Stanley Kubrick's film Lolita (1962), based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel first published in 1955. If possible, we will also look at later adaptations for the purposes of comparison, such as Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991) alongside the 1908 silent version of The Tempest and Adrian Lyne's Lolita (1997) to compare with Kubrick's film.




  • Essay, 5,000 words (100%)