The 5 Best Book To Mini-Series Adaptations

The 5 Best Book To Mini-Series Adaptations

In this post, we look at the best book to mini-series adaptations.

Stories are pivotal to our experience as human beings. Books and their adaptations whether it be film, theatre production, audio book, or mini-series are called escapism for a reason, even they tackle difficult subjects.

If you loved a book, hearing that it has been turned into a mini-series at first fills you with joy. Swiftly followed by angst.

Who will play the lead roles?

Will they be faithful to the book?

Who is producing it? The BBC? Phew. Hang on…they did The Watch based on Terry Pratchett’s books – arrgh, my angst now needs chocolate.

A Mini-series can suffer from the same fate as film when it comes to adaptations, so for the purposes of this list we’re not including adaptations that moved quite a long way away from the source material. Sorry, no Witcher in this blog.

The 5 Best Book To Mini-Series Adaptations

Bearing that in mind, here are 5 Of The Best Book To Film Adaptations.

  1. Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Date: 1995
    Budget: £6 Million
    Produced by: BBC/A&E
    Starring: Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle
    Number of episodes: 6
    Awards: Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA Television Award for Best Actress and
    costume designer Dinah Collin won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special.

The book has been turned into 3 films and 2 miniseries, but it is the series starring Colin Firth that is most recent and the best of all of them. It captivated Britain. Approximately 11 million people watched the original six-episode broadcast on BBC One on Sunday evenings from 24 September to 29 October 1995. The episodes were then repeated each week on BBC Two. By the time the final episode was shown, eight foreign countries had bought the rights, and the miniseries had a market share of about 40 per cent in Britain. Think about that. A period drama, a Jane Austen book no less, had 40% of Britian tuning in on one night in 1995 to watch the last episode.

How The Mini-series Differed From The Book

What made the mini-series such a success was the fact that, apart from the wet shirt scene and the scene where Darcy is writing his letter to Elizabeth, it was almost word for word from the text of the book. No changes to characters, plot, setting, era, or look and feel was made. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, seems to have been the BBC’s approach. And it worked.

  1. Poldark by Winston Graham

Date: 1975 and 2015
Budget: For the 2015 remake – £6 Million
Produced by: BBC
Starring: 2015: Aiden Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson
Number of episodes: 5 Series
Awards: 37 awards in total in various competitions

It is said that when Poldark was aired in 1975, church services were changed in Cornwall, in which the story is set, because everyone was at home watching the show. It had an audience of 12 million! The 1975 version sold in over forty countries. It is one of the most successful British television adaptations of all time. Apart from the 1995 series Pride and Prejudice, Poldark had in 2003, outsold every costume drama according to The Telegraph. An audience of nearly 7 million watched the first episode of the 2015 version and throughout its five seasons never dropped below 5.4 million viewers.

How The Mini-series Differed From The Book

Both the adaptations are remarkably faithful to the books, apart from Aiden Turner playing the titular character scything a field sans shirt. And I’m not sure about the swimming naked while being spied on by Demelsa either.

Small changes include hair colour. In the novels, Demelza has dark hair, Elizabeth blonde, and Caroline auburn. In the mini-series, Demelza is the redhead, Elizabeth has dark hair, and Caroline is the blonde. Personally, I think this makes much more sense. Jud and Prudie get more airtime in the book, while George Warleggan has more in the mini-series.

There are some story changes but so few and, as they don’t actually change the plot, they aren’t anything about which one can throw one’s toys.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Date: 2017
Budget: Unknown
Produced by: Hulu
Starring: Elizabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes
Number of episodes: Series 1: 10 episodes
Awards: 11+ awards in total in various competitions in 2017

As the TV series covered the book in Season One, we’ll only be talking about that season.

How The Mini-series Differed From The Book

There are some differences but, as with Poldark, they aren’t plot changes. These include Offred revealing her real name, June, to the other handmaids, whereas in the book only astute readers managed to work it out. In the book, Offred is more passive than the more spirited character in the series.

In the book, the leaders of Gilead operate along the same lines as the Nazis – only white people had any leadership roles or were welcome at all and all people of colour and different sexual orientation were ‘removed’. The makers of the TV series felt that for today’s audiences, people of colour and or different sexual orientation needed to be not only visible but actual characters in the show so that it was relevant to those audiences.

Offred has a larger backstory in the TV series. And the takeover by the leaders of Gilead is better told as direct action rather than reported action by Offred in the book.

Another change that was made was the update to today’s technology – Smartphones and Uber.

One of the most frightening things about both the TV series and the book is that Margaret Atwood never depicted anything that hadn’t happened at some time in the world, or wasn’t happening now. When the book first came out, people complained that nothing like that would happen in America. Atwood has said that she hears less and less of that these days. Scary thought.

Season 1 was watched by 3% of American viewers. Season 4 premiere, with 1 million viewers, makes The Handmaid’s Tale the most watched original season debut during the course of one week.

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Date: 2014
Budget: Season 1- US$75 million
Produced by: Starz
Starring: Caitríona Balfe and Sam Heughan
Number of episodes: 7 Seasons: 83 episodes
Awards: 30 awards in total in various competitions to date.

More than 5.1 million viewers watched Outlander across a variety of platforms. It has been cited as one of the series responsible for Starz’s increased success against competitors such as Showtime.

How The Mini-series Differed From The Book

Because the books, so far, cover so much ground over thousands of pages, and the audiobooks run for hundreds of hours, there had to be many compromises in the making of the TV series. Some things were shortened, some left out. Characters were combined or ignored. Here is a very small sampling.

If you are a fan of the books, you’ll know that about the only thing that is the same between book Jamie and TV Jamie is his red hair. Book Claire had brown eyes while TV Claire has blue eyes. TV Claire is also older than book Claire.

When it comes to Claire’s first husband, book Frank is unlikable but TV Frank is, according to some, a more sympathetic character. Personally, I think he is rotten to the core in both cases.

The main POV in the books is Claire’s. The TV series head hops. This lets us into more action that wouldn’t be seen if we were only in Claire’s head.

  1. Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Date: 2014
Budget: Season 1- US$6 million per episode
Produced by: HBO
Starring: Sean Bean, Emilia Clarke, Jason Momoa – way too many to mention, truth be told.
Number of episodes: 10 Seasons: 73 episodes
Awards: 20 awards in total in various competitions for Season 1.

No list would be complete without mentioning Game Of Thrones. Because the series was based on the books and the books were not short, we’re focusing here only on Season 1. The series was based on the book Game Of Thrones from the books in the planned seven volumes in A Song Of Fire And Ice.  So far only 5 of the 7 books have been written, yet there have been 8 Seasons. How the final two books will differ from the series remains to be seen.

How The Mini-series Differed From The Book

The most notable difference is the ages of the Stark children. This makes sense as young children come with logistical problems when filming and some scenes would be unacceptable with underage actors in the roles. All of the Stark children were aged up by at least 2 years. The biggest age difference in a character was Daenerys. In the book the soon-to-be Mother Of Dragons is 13. In the series, she is 17.

Characters were cut from the series. There were SO many characters anyway that removing a few would hardly be noticed. It in the book it wasn’t Sansa who married Ramsay but her friend. In the book Catelyn Stark is resurrected from the dead. They let her rest in peace in the series, as they do Jojen Reed. Jorah Mormont does not have a life of ease and comfort in the series. One hopes he is grateful because in the book he is infected with greyscale, dying a slow and horrible death. Jon Connington, a.k.a. possibly Aegon Targaryen, doesn’t even get off the page.

Spoiler alert – The Night King doesn’t exist. In the books. The Night’s King does. The Night King is a creation of the show.

In the series, Tyrion and Jamie Lannister part if not as friends, then certainly on good terms. If one can call a threat of revenge on the part of Tyrion against his brother as ‘good terms’, then perhaps one could say the same about the book. Or not.

The Last Word

What book to TV series adaptations have you seen that you felt stayed as true to the source material as possible, and which did you enjoy? Drop us a comment below. We’d love to know. If you’d like to see your books being made into a TV series but need to write one first, then Writers Write is the perfect place to learn the skills you’ll need to get your book out of your imagination and on paper!

Elaine Dodge

by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device HunterElaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.

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Posted on: 14th September 2023