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TV Critic’s Corner

John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels will be adapted for TV

John Updike in an undated photo.Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

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 Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.