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15 Marvelous Book-to-Screen Adaptations from Masterpiece

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • May 25, 2021

Produced by WGBH Boston, Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theatre) premiered over fifty years ago on January 10, 1971, making it America's longest-running weekly prime time drama series. Known largely for presenting book adaptations, the series has gained an ardent following of book lovers—like us! Here are fifteen of our favorite adaptations in Masterpiece series, miniseries, and movies.

Series

All Creatures Great and Small (2021)
This charming reboot is based on James Herriot's beloved books about his work as a rural veterinarian in 1930s Yorkshire. The seven-part series offers beautiful scenery, excellent performances and positive, life-affirming themes. Great news! The show has been renewed for a second season!

Sanditon (2019)
When Jane Austen was chronically ill with a mysterious disease in early 1817, she turned her thoughts to happier things, starting work on a witty and delightful novel set in a seaside town. Sadly, she died before finishing it. This bold and lavish adaptation of Austen's final work has been renewed for Seasons 2 and 3!

Wolf Hall (2015)
Adapted from Hilary Mantel's best-selling Booker Prize-winning novels, this series, starring Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, and Claire Foy, follows the complex machinations and backroom dealings of accomplished power broker Thomas Cromwell. A second season is reportedly in the works.

Poldark (2015)
Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of Winston Graham's series, as well as the hit show that helped launch Masterpiece in the 1970s. In this reboot, redcoat Captain Poldark returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution and finds that his fighting days are far from over.

The Forsyte Saga (2002)
John Galsworthy's unforgettable novels are the basis for this opulent new adaptation chronicling the lives of three generations of an upper-middle-class British family from the 1870s to 1920. First adapted by Masterpiece in 1967, this update stars Damian Lewis, Rupert Graves, and Gina McKee.

Miniseries

The Long Song (2021)
Based on Andrea Levy's award-winning novel, this three-part miniseries follows July, an indomitable, young slave who works on a sugarcane plantation with her detestable mistress. Their lives change with the arrival of the charming new overseer who sets out to improve the plantation.

Les Misérables (2019)
Love, death, and the struggle for social justice in 19th-century France feature in this faithful retelling of Victor Hugo's masterpiece. The six-part adaptation by award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies stars Dominic West as Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo as Inspector Javert, and Lily Collins as Fantine.

The Miniaturist (2017)
Adapted from Jessie Burton's internationally best-selling novel, this ravishing three-part period thriller stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Nella Oortman. Arriving in Amsterdam In 1686, the young bride is presented with a mysterious, enchanted wedding gift from her wealthy new husband.

Movies

Elizabeth is Missing (2021)
Two-time Academy Award-winner Glenda Jackson gives a powerful performance as a woman desperately trying to solve two mysteries as she declines ever deeper into dementia. Based on Emma Healey's acclaimed novel, the film was lauded as a "heartrending whodunnit" by The Guardian.

Little Women (2018)
Follow Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, on their journey from childhood to adulthood. Under the guidance of Marmee, they navigate what it means to be a young woman: from gender roles to sibling rivalry, first love, loss, and marriage. Based, of course, on the beloved 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott.

Death Comes to Pemberley (2014)
Six years after Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy marry, a coach races up to their estate, with an hysterical Lydia shrieking, "Murder!" So continues the story of Jane Austen's timeless classic in this star-studded adaptation of crime writer P.D. James's bestselling whodunit.

Northanger Abbey (2007)
In this adaptation of Jane Austen's gentle parody of gothic fiction, Felicity Jones plays teenage romance addict Catherine Morland. Invited to a medieval country house that appeals to her most lurid fantasies, she forms a close friendship with Henry Tilney, the younger son on the estate.

Mansfield Park (2007)
And because we can never get enough of her Regency-era romances... This adaptation of Jane Austen's complex, intriguing novel stars Billie Piper as Fanny Price who is sent by her financially challenged mother to live with wealthy relatives at their Mansfield estate.

The Wind in the Willows (2006)
This charming live-action adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's 1908 children's novel stars the late Bob Hoskins as Badger and Matt Lucas as an exuberant Mr. Toad. Although the movie was well-received, many critics noted that it might actually be more appropriate for an older audience than the book.

Skinwalkers (2002)
Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn investigate three unsolved homicides and an attempt on Chee's life that have left the Navajo Tribal Police baffled. The duo unearths cryptic clues, narrowing in on one suspect, in this suspenseful mystery based on Tony Hillerman's novel.

We've had a grand time revisiting all of these gorgeous adaptations, as well as the wonderful literature that inspired them. And we hope you will too! Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily book recommendations, literary tidbits, and more.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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