22 books you need to read before they hit the screen
From Queenie and Daisy Jones & The Six to The Underground Railroad, here are the 22 books you’re going to want to read before they hit screens over the next year.
Anyone who’s ever been nervous about seeing their favourite novel being adapted for the screen will agree that adapting books for TV and film is a contentious issue. But last year gave us some brilliant book-to-screen adaptations. Just look at the success of Sally Rooney’s Normal People on BBC Three, season five of Outlander on Amazon and the modern movie retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma.
Yes, books continue to provide inspiration for so many films and series. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the upcoming book-to-screen adaptations that are coming this year and beyond. Oh, and make sure you add them to your reading list.
The Underground Railroad
Prepare to hear Thuso Mbedu’s name everywhere from this point forwards, because we predict that after the release of Amazon Prime’s highly anticipated series The Underground Railroad, the breakout actor will be in big demand.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead and directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, The Underground Railroad chronicles Cora Randall’s (Mbedu) desperate bid for freedom from a cotton plantation in the antebellum South. She escapes in pursuit of the fabled Underground Railroad, only to discover a secret, subterranean network which picks up fugitives wherever it can.
Throughout her journey, she must navigate the unique terrors for Black people in the pre-Civil War era, and evade capture at the hands of her bounty hunter Ridgeway (played by Joel Edgerton), who will stop at nothing to bring her back to the plantation she escaped.
All ten episodes of the original series land on Amazon Prime on 14 May.
Buy The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead from Bookshop.org, £8.36
Claire Foy might be best known for leading roles in excellent period dramas (Wolf Hall, The Crown) but her next project is something truly different.
Foy will take the lead role in the movie adaptation of Melissa Broder’s The Pisces. The 2018 novel tells the story of Lucy, a PhD student in her 30s who has just broken up with her boyfriend. After trying to write her thesis on Sappho for nearly a decade, Lucy feels lost and disconnected. She agrees to dog-sit for her sister in Los Angeles for a summer, where she joins a love addiction group and goes on a string of Tinder excursions. But Lucy’s outlook starts to change when she meets and falls for a merman called Theo…
It’s a darkly funny, erotic and, at times, uncomfortable story, which takes a refreshing and sharp take on what romance, fertility, ambition, identity, pleasure, boundaries and love all mean for women today.
Buy The Pisces by Melissa Broder from Bookshop.org, £8.36
John Preston’s The Dig, which was published in 2008, is an account of the most famous archaeological dig in Britain in modern times – the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo, known as “Britain’s Tutankhamun”.
Set against the intense backdrop of a nation on the eve of war in 1939, the story channels class tensions, love and loss through the eyes of those affected by the dig and its treasures.
Lily James and Carey Mulligan will star in Netflix’s movie adaptation, which lands on the streaming platform on 29 January.
Buy The Dig by John Preston from Bookshop.org, £8.36
Daisy Jones & The Six
Back in 2019, Reese Witherspoon announced she is adapting the best-selling book, Daisy Jones & The Six.
The book follows the story of lead singer Daisy Jones, who is born into privilege but ignored by her selfish parents. She is a spirited and enigmatic singer/songwriter who comes of age and rises to rock superstardom against the backdrop of the LA music scene in the 1970s.
Riley Keough will play Jones in the Amazon Prime Video limited musical series. Although there isn’t a release date yet, it’s likely to be released in 2021.
Buy Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid at Daunt books, £8.99
Americanah, the award-winning book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is being turned into a mini-series by Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira.
It of course follows the love story between Ifemelu, a bright, young Nigerian woman who shows great academic promise, and an ambitious boy in her class called Obinze. The pair discuss their dreams for the future, and with Nigeria being under military rule, find themselves believing that western cultures may have more to offer.
Sadly, this production is on pause due to coronavirus, and we’re unsure when it will resume. But we know it will be worth the wait when it hits our screens.
Buy Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Afrori Books, £8.90
Conversations With Friends
For those who fell in love with Normal People, BBC Three is now producing Sally Rooney’s first novel, Conversations With Friends.
It tells the story of two college students – Frances and Bobbi – living in Dublin, who form a complicated connection with an older married couple called Nick and Melissa.
Expect the same dramatic, intimate and beautiful production that we were treated to with Normal People.
Buy Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney from Waterstones, £7.99
The White Tiger
Priyanka Chopra stars in the film adaptation of New York Times bestseller and 2008 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.
It tells the epic and darkly humorous tale of Balram Halwai, a rickshaw driver’s son who ascends from servant to self-made entrepreneur in modern India.
The movie arrives on Netflix on 22 January 2021.
Buy The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga from Foyles, £8.99
The Pursuit Of Love
Lily James, Dominic West and Andrew Scott will lead an all-star cast in a BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s classic novel The Pursuit Of Love.
Set in Europe between the two World Wars, the story follows the adventures and misadventures of the charismatic and fearless Linda Radlett, played by James, and her best friend and cousin Fanny Logan, played by Emily Beecham.
The series will premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK this springtime.
Buy The Pursuit Of Love by Nancy Mitford from Daunt Books, £8.99
Where The Crawdads Sing
Another best-seller being produced by Witherspoon, the film adaptation of Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens will star Daisy Edgar-Jones.
Owens’ novel follows the story of Kya Clark from a young age, when her mother walks out on her family in search of a different life. One by one, Kya’s siblings leave home to escape their abusive father, until he himself disappears one day, leaving Kya to fend for herself in the middle of the marsh. She is forced to adapt and learn to live with her surroundings as she grows up.
A release date is still to be confirmed.
Buy Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens from Hive, £8.15
The Water Dancer
Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt are joining forces to produce best-selling novel The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The book follows young Hiram Walker who was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
The film is yet to start production, so we might have a while to wait for this one.
Buy The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates from Afrori Books, £15.90
Anatomy Of A Scandal
Sienna Miller will lead the cast in Netflix’s adaptation of Anatomy Of A Scandal by Sarah Vaughan.
The plot revolves around James, a high-flying Home Office minister whose marriage to Sophie is plunged into crisis after the aide that he has an affair with, Olivia, accuses him of rape.
Casting was only recently announced, but filming should start this year.
Buy Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan from Hive, £7.19
In 2019, Candice Carty-Williams let slip to Stylist that her best-selling modern coming-of-age novel Queenie was being adapted for the small screen.
Queenie is a 25-year-old Black woman working on a newspaper in London, whose life starts to unravel when she takes a break from her long-term boyfriend. She sleeps around, isolates herself and makes career-jeopardising decisions. It’s a darkly funny take on millennial life from an underrepresented perspective, and is often very, very close to the bone for its readers.
The series is being produced by Channel 4 and is expected to come out this year.
Buy Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams from London Review Bookshop, £8.99
Cush Jumbo and Sarah Parish will star in a new Netflix eight-part adaptation of Harlan Coben’s thriller Stay Close. It will be produced by Nicola Shindler and Richard Fee, the same team behind hit Netflix thriller The Stranger.
Jumbo takes on the role of Megan, a busy suburban mum whose life is torn apart after Lorraine (Parish), a friend from her past, delivers some shocking news.
Filming for Stay Close will start in early 2021, with an air date for later in the year.
Buy Stay Close by Harlan Coben from Blackwells, £10.08
Last year, the rights to Naoise Dolan’s 2020 debut, Exciting Times, were snapped up by production company Black Bear Pictures.
Based in Hong Kong, this sharp, witty debut explores a love triangle as newly arrived English teacher Ava finds herself torn between the different worlds offered by non-committal banker Julian and alluring lawyer Edith.
We’ll keep you updated with details when they come.
Buy Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan from News From Nowhere, £13.99
Gemma Arterton returned to the small screen with an intriguing three-part drama adaptation of the classic 1939 Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden.
The story of sexual repression and forbidden love takes place in 1934 on a remote clifftop palace in the Himalayas, once known as the ‘House of Women’.
Black Narcissus aired on BBC One over Christmas, but you can catch up with all three episodes on BBC iPlayer.
Buy Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden from Waterstones, £9.99
Nine Perfect Strangers
Big Little Lies fans will love this future adaptation of another Liane Moriarty book: Nine Perfect Strangers.
Set at a remote wellness resort where nine stressed-out strangers go to get on a path to a better way of living, each has their own reasons for visiting from losing weight to getting over heartbreak. Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy are just two of the series’ stars.
The limited series is set to debut on Hulu later in 2021.
Buy Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty from Hive, £7.89
The Woman In The Window
We were gripped and slightly creeped out after watching the tense trailer for Amy Adams’ adaptation of psychological thriller The Woman In The Window.
Adams plays Anna, an agoraphobic psychologist who only sees the world from her window and sends people away if they arrive on her doorstep. She unexpectedly befriends her neighbour from across the road, Jane, who confides in her about her “complicated” family. But then, while looking out of her window one evening, Anna appears to see Jane being brutally attacked in her home. Did Jane just imagine things? Or did she really witness a murder?
We can find out what really happened when it lands on Netflix in the first half of this year.
Buy The Woman In The Window by A.J. Flynn from Bookshop.org, £8.36
Freida Pinto will play war hero Noor Inayat Khan in this adaptation of the war hero’s biography.
Noor was the first female wireless operator sent to occupied France in 1943, where she was captured by the Germans and tortured. She was kept imprisoned for 10 months, never once betraying the British, before she was taken to Dachau concentration camp, where she was shot on 13 September 1944.
Pinto has described her as “a fierce and amazing woman, the most unlikely heroine of World War Two”.
Filming is yet to start but it looks like another brilliant series to wait impatiently for.
Buy Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu from Bookshop.org, £9.29
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The 2003 novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is a much-loved story about a man (Henry) with a genetic disorder that allows him to time travel and his wife (Clare), an artist, who must try to cope with his absence and strange experiences.
There is already a film version of the novel, released in 2009 and starring Rachel McAdams, but the story is coming to the small screen this year thanks to HBO who have secured the rights to adapt the novel into a series. The TV show will feature Game of Thrones star, Rose Leslie, as Clare and Theo James as Henry.
It’s unclear right now when we can expect the series to hit our screens but if you haven’t already read the book, it’s definitely worth immersing yourself into this timeless and moving love story.
Buy The Time Traveler’s Wife from Bookshop.org, £8.36
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was first published in 1970 and it has been both challenged and celebrated for its frankness over the years. The young-adult novel tells the story of a sixth-grader who has grown up without a religious affiliation due to her parents’ interfaith marriage. Margaret is trying to balance navigating life as a teenage girl and finding her identity. Now, it’s being developed into a TV series.
Abby Ryder Fortson, who previously starred in the Amazon Prime series, Transparent, will play Margaret and Rachel McAdams is portraying her mother. Speaking about the casting, Blume said, “Abby is funny and tender, strong yet vulnerable. She IS Margaret. And Rachel – wow! – does it get any better? A funny, loving, sexy, real woman who is also a mom.”
Filming is yet to start on Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret so the release date will be at least a year away. But that gives you plenty of time to re-read or catch up with this book that so many women grew up with.
Buy Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at Bookshop.org, £6.50
Lady in the Lake
Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o are both set to star in a limited series adaptation of Laura Lippman’s murder-mystery novel, Lady in the Lake.
Apple TV+ are setting up the show that will see Portman play a 1960s Baltimore housewife and mother who becomes an investigative journalist in light of an unsolved murder. Nyong’o will play Cleo Sherwood, a woman balancing multiple jobs and a family, who is committed to advancing Baltimore’s Black progressive agenda.
A release date is still to be confirmed.
Buy Lady in the Lake from Bookshop.org, £8.36
Writers and Lovers
Lily King’s Writers and Lovers became an instant New York Times bestseller when it was released last year and it’s now being adapted for TV by Topic Studios. The novel tells the story of Casey Peabody, an aspiring writer in 1990s Boston whose world is transformed by a love affair and her mother’s sudden death.
Toni Collette will direct the series in her directorial debut and she describes the novel as “an empowering story that speaks to me as a woman and an artist”. The cast and release date are yet to be announced but that leaves you with plenty of time to read the acclaimed novel.
Buy Writers and Lovers from Bookshop.org, £8.36
Remember to check online independent booksellers and Black-owned bookstores to stock up your reading pile with. Happy reading!
Images: various publishers
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