Five Films Better Than the Book

William Boyd, a master of writing for the page and screen, shares five movies he prefers to the novels they were based on.

Words by William Boyd

As a prolific novelist and screenwriter, William Boyd has experienced every step a story takes to make it to the big screen. So here the award-winning author – the subject this week’s ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile – gives his expert opinion on five movies that are better than the novels on which they were based, a perennial dinner party debate he is perfectly positioned to join.

Barry Lyndon, Book by William Makepeace Thackeray, Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick took a pretty-much forgotten Trollope novel and turned it into a period epic. It’s also one of the most beautiful-looking films you will ever see. And Kubrick harnessed new cinematographic technology to make the candlelight work sensationally. Ryan O’Neal , for once, is perfect casting.

Point Blank, Adapted from The Hunter by Donald E Westlake, Directed by John Boorman

One of the greatest hard-boiled thrillers ever made. Way ahead of its time. Lee Marvin is brutally mesmerising. Westlake’s novel isn’t bad but John Boorman turned this into classic noir.

Coup de Torchon, Adapted from Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson, Directed by Bertrand Tavernier

Jim Thompson’s novel is a Western but Tavernier set it in colonial French West Africa just before the second world war. The transformation works brilliantly, aided by a truly stunning ensemble cast of great French actors: Philippe Noiret, Stephane Audran and a young Isabelle Huppert.

Blade Runner, Adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick, Directed by Ridley Scott

I must have seen Blade Runner a dozen times. Philip K Dick’s strange, unremembered novel is turned into a completely haunting film by Ridley Scott. The “look” of the movie is unbelievable and, in fact, pretty much unsurpassed, even though it was made in 1982. It’s like a classic private eye/detective story set in the future but it’s the android/human anguish that grips. Harrison Ford has never been better and Sean Young as Rachael the replicant is a sensational femme fatale. It contains one of the best cigarette-smoking scenes in movie history. Watch the director’s cut.

Psycho, Book by Robert Bloch, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I’m actually not a whole-hearted fan of Hitchcock but I think Psycho is his masterwork. A routine horror-novel turned into one of the most frightening and unforgettable movies you’ll ever see. Full of classic scenes and terrifying moments.


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