There haven’t been many adaptations of John Updike’s fiction over the years. “The Witches of Eastwick” was brought to TV and the movies, and “Rabbit, Run” was turned into a movie in 1970. It’s remarkable that such a prolific and popular American novelist and short-story writer — he published “some 21 novels” and 18 story collections, according to Wikipedia — has inspired so few films and series. Perhaps his fiction doesn’t contain enough action, or it’s too interior, or too subtle. Perhaps Hollywood is aware of the truism that second-rate books make first-rate movies and first-rate books make second-rate movies.
So this may be the beginning of a new understanding of Updike — triggered by the Brits. Andrew Davies, the British screenwriter who has built a successful and respected career adapting classics, from “Bleak House” and “Middlemarch” to “Pride and Prejudice” and “War & Peace,” is taking on Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels. He will adapt them for Lookout Point, a London-based production company with whom Davies has already collaborated on “War & Peace” and forthcoming adaptations of “Les Miserables” and Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy.” Inevitably, the Updike adaptations will wind up as a coproduction between a British and an American network — PBS, HBO, A&E, Netflix, it’s hard to predict.
“As a young man, I read ‘Rabbit, Run’ when it came out and thought: Gosh, this is what life is all about,” Davies said in a release. “For me no other writer examines the mundane, everyday details of life with such expressionistic, colorful, spiritual power. I have hoped for a long time to adapt Updike’s novels, and I’m thrilled to embark on this journey now.”
Faith Penhale of Lookout Point said, in the same release, “It is a huge honour to have won the rights and the support from the Updike estate, to bring these incredible novels to life for television.”Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.