Why I never (usually) watch the film before reading the book

In the argument over whether a book or film is better entertainment, I am almost always on the side of the book. The only exception I can think of, where I enjoyed the film more, is Gone Girl (I couldn’t stand the book and only managed a few chapters, but was on the edge of my seat for most of the film). There are many books I haven’t yet read which I have seen the film version of, but if it’s something I want to read (especially the classics) then I prefer to read the book first so as not to spoil it or end up with a Hollywood star polluting my view of a character. It even annoys me when they reissue a book with the film stars on the cover.

Keira Knightly as Anna Karenina (image from hbo.com)
Keira Knightly as Anna Karenina (image from hbo.com)

I am just over halfway through the novel Anna Karenina, and can’t believe how unlike the film it is. I broke my rule about watching the film with this one because I was on a long-haul flight and there was nothing else I fancied. The film (the new version with Keira Knightly) was so-so and given the size of the book compared to the length of the film I was expecting some differences. But, aside from a few scenes early on in the film, I would not have recognised it as the same story and I am left wondering again why everything has to be turned into a film.

For a start, Anna is not introduced until about ten chapters in and at the point I have reached in the book I am more interested in the other characters than I am her. It’s not that the book isn’t about Anna and her relationship with Vronsky, but rather it deals with all of the characters who are affected by her choices whereas the film has such a narrow focus. In the film’s defence, it would be impossible to fit the whole story in to a two hour time slot, but sometimes I am not sure why the film makers even try. To me, the film becomes such a distortion that they may as well have written their own story and left this classic to be enjoyed as it was intended.

I am going to go back on my argument a little here as there are many adaptations, for TV dramas in particular, which are very good. I loved the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, which I watched when I was twelve and which prompted me to read the book, and there are many other good ones. But, I still prefer to read the book before watching these otherwise I feel that the whole experience of reading and discovery is tainted somewhat.

Are there any films which you prefer to the book? Do you have a preference as to whether you watch the film or read the book first? Or do you avoid the film altogether?


2 thoughts on “Why I never (usually) watch the film before reading the book

  1. I am glad that I read Anna Karenina before watching the movie (which I have not yet finished). I find it a really interesting experiment and interpretation of one aspect of the book, but by no means can it capture everything Tolstoy was doing in his writing… I was surprised when I read the book how little of it is actually about Anna, yet that is what everyone focuses on. Levin just isn’t so glamorous I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

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