I am not one who particularly likes movies made from my favorite books. Probably because Hollywood usually does a lousy job of it—reinventing characters, changing plotlines, etc. My exception to this comes in the form of Masterpiece Classics, the arm of Masterpiece Theatre that brings classic literature to life on DVD or your PBS station. I think my reasons for this are two-fold.
First, I think oftentimes the British revere the literature more than we Americans. They don’t seem as eager to change stories and characters that have endured through generations. But my second reason is even more compelling. Masterpiece Classics productions take me back to classic literature. This happens in several ways.
Sometimes the latest Masterpiece Classic movie reminds me of a book I read long ago and it inspires me to find it again and re-read it. What is so fun about this it that the book is always different than the last time I read it. As I grow and change, my response to literature changes. I see different nuances, identify with different characters. This happened last year as I watched the Masterpiece Classics version of Mansfield Park. I re-read the book as a mother, instead of a flighty (albeit married) college student, and suddenly I could see things in the older characters I had overlooked before. It was a powerful reminder to me that as parents, we understand and help guide the character of our children.
Sometimes I watch movies based on books I’ve heard of but never actually read. This can often spur my interest or give me enough of a basic understanding of a story to give me the courage to attack a particularly daunting book. Like Bleak House. Its nearly 1000 Dickensian pages terrified me. But the story on screen captured my imagination. I plunged in and read the whole thing. Now it’s one of my favorites.
On rare occasions, my reading and Masterpiece Classics will coincide and they will release a version of a classic I have recently read. Then, as I watch, I get to remember, to re-experience the story in a different medium. This was my experience recently with Tess of the D’Urbervilles. While the story is depressing, heartbreaking really, the telling of it on the page is beautiful. Besides remembering the lovely words and images, I liked watching the actors, seeing if I really believed them to be the characters that peopled my head as I read.
So if you get in the mood for classic literature and need a boost to get you into that book, pick out a Masterpiece Classics production and see if it doesn’t get you motivated to dive into those pages!