Spellbinding Books on the Big Screen: Canadian Literature on Film

April 1, 2017

Barney's Version film still

From page-turner to barn-burner, it’s a fascinating process to watch adaptations of Canadian literature make their way to the big screen. REEL CANADA is a team of avid readers, but it appears so are Canadian filmmakers! Here’s a look at some of the most memorable adaptations that had us on the edge of our library seat.

Barney’s Version (2010)

We could just as easily be writing praise about The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the other amazing Mordecai Richler novel that was made into a major movie adaptation, but hey—we’re just gonna keep talkin’ here! Barney’s Version made a big splash in 2010, where it debuted at the Venice International Film Festival before returning to its Canadian roots at TIFF. Paul Giamatti plays the title curmudgeon who tells his life story through unreliable narration, and this dark, hazy comedy takes us through a picaresque trip through Montreal’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Fun fact: Duddy Kravitz makes a small cameo!

The Book of Negroes (2015)

Lawrence Hill’s utterly astounding historical novel taps into the deep and painful era of slavery in the 1700s, and the CBC’s award-winning miniseries only compounds the text’s emotional impact. With incredible acting and director Clement Virgo’s sensitive eye, The Book of Negroes is a must-watch.

Alias Grace (2017)

Speaking of miniseries, we are overjoyed to see one of our favourite directors, Sarah Polley, has teamed up with Margaret Atwood for Alias Grace, a mini-series based on the novel. Judging from the last time she made a movie by an esteemed Canadian author—Alice Munro’s Away From Her—you can bet this Gothic murder mystery is going to fantastic. Since the novel is written from multiple points-of-view, we’re excited to see how Polley distills the essence of the text into an episodic format!

Sweet Hereafter film still   Pontypool film still
 

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Based on the 1991 novel by Russell Banks, this tragic story of loss was deftly told by our very own Atom Egoyan, whose 1997 film won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year (which also stars Sarah Polley!). The Sweet Hereafter was based off a real event—the 1989 school bus crash that took many young lives. It’s a very sad story, but Egoyan’s film—and Banks’ book—are sensitive, compelling, and heartbreaking works.

Pontypool (2008)

Betcha didn’t know this was based off a novel! Well, folks, Bruce McDonald’s notorious 2008 horror film is adapted from Pontypool Changes Everything, the 1995 novel from Toronto’s Tony Burgess. It’s the crazy story about a small Ontario town that becomes plagued by a disease spread through language—so keep quiet when the film is on!

What are some of your favourite Canadian books on Canadian film? Let us know on Twitter @CanFilmDay!


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