From Page to Screen

Put yourself in Ridley Scott's shoes. You've been hired to make a sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs", based on Thomas Harris' international bestseller. There's only one problem: the book ending doesn't work on film. How do you change it without alienating the author and the millions who loved his book?

Danny Boyle faced a similar quandary when filming "The Beach". In Alex Garland's cult novel, the action culminates in a cannibalistic orgy more gruesome than anything Hannibal Lecter could devise. Then there was "The Horse Whisperer", in which a character dies by hurling himself under a nag's hooves. Needless to say, both climaxes were changed by the time the films reached the screen.

It's not just endings that get altered. "Pay It Forward" was criticised recently for changing Kevin Spacey's character from an African-American Vietnam vet to a white schoolteacher. In Stephen King's "Misery", the hero's feet have an altogether more bloody fate compared to the same scene in Rob Reiner's film. And in "The Bonfire of the Vanities", a Jewish judge was turned black to accommodate the casting of Morgan Freeman.

The lesson is simple: if you've sold your work to Hollywood, it's best to take the money and run. Either they'll change the setting from London to Chicago (as in Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity"), or have an American doing their best to be quintessentially English (Renée Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary"). Not everyone is as lucky as "Chocolat" author Joanne Harris, who asked for Juliette Binoche - and got her.