A Failure of Adaptation


There’s always a risk when making a movie from a book. Let’s face it:  the choices are rarely, if ever, unknown titles. Studios pick favorites, hoping to cash in on reader loyalty. Sometimes this works (Hunger Games). Sometimes it doesn’t (every version of Carrie after the one with Sissy Spacek). I could write a very long, very detailed post about Hollywood butchering my favorites, but I’ll save that for another day. Tonight, I want to talk a little about Lifetime Television and V.C. Andrews.

The author of Flowers in the Attic–and other incestuous tales–earned a place in my heart when I was likely far too young and impressionable to be reading her work. I enjoyed her sometimes over-the-top style, and found myself completely sucked into the world of Cathy, Chris, Cory, and Carrie.

I was with them in the beginning, at the introduction to their idyllic life. I was there when Father died, and Mother forced them to live in an attic in order to earn back Grandfather’s love (and money). I witnessed their pain, and suffered with them through the abuse that finally robbed them of hope.

Forget the racy aspects of the first novel in this series. Flowers in the Attic was a powerful tale of love and selfishness. It demonstrated, to me, the extremes of human nature…and has stayed with me throughout my life.

While reading the sequel, Petals on the Wind, I maintained that emotional connection. I felt Cathy’s rage, her need for revenge. I endured her highs and lows, as torn by her struggle as she was. This character was never perfect. She was as often cruel as she was kind, and regularly came off as just plain unlikeable. In spite of this, we’d “lived through” so much together that I couldn’t hate her.

When Lifetime announced that they were making this into a movie, I was foolishly excited. Yes, every attempt to do the same for FITA had failed miserably, but POTW was different. There was real potential here for a fine film.

I DVRd it this afternoon, and turned it on about an hour ago. I’m writing this while rolling my eyes at the television, and muttering obscenities no one else is awake to hear. Why? Because Lifetime has gone too far.

I expected to have criticisms for their efforts. To be fair, I’ll admit that. A certain amount of cheesiness was a given to me. The acting wasn’t going to be top-notch, and I assumed they’d take some liberties with the storyline. What I did not expect, however, was to watch a movie so far removed from the source material that I almost can’t believe they kept the title.

An important character who helped shape these children’s lives throughout the novel was killed off in the first five minutes of the film. Sex that never happened, happened. Relationships developed in bizarre ways, on a twisted timeline, through wince-worthy performances. For those of you familiar with the book, you won’t even recognize this movie.

I’m watching with a kind of sickened horror. I keep thinking, “What?! No! That didn’t freaking happen! What the hell!?”

I would think just getting the basic plot ironed out would be cake when screenwriters are working from a completed novel. Yet, I’m forced to question whether anyone involved in the production of Petals on the Wind even read the book. It’s that bad.

Lifetime, what the hell were you thinking? It hasn’t been so long since this book was popular that you can count on readers not remembering the details. Did you even glance at a synopsis? Did you ask anyone who’d read the book? You really should have.

I won’t claim this novel was the best thing ever written. It wasn’t. There was plenty wrong with it, actually. Thing is, Lifetime had an opportunity to reflect not what lacked, but what shined within the story. They could have made a slightly questionable book into a thoughtful, provocative tale of revenge.

Unfortunately, they didn’t.

If studios want to take creative liberties, they should do so to improve. What’s the point in making a mockery of an already often-mocked story? Be better. Try harder. Give the audience not what it expects, but what it deserves.

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2 Responses to A Failure of Adaptation

  1. Jack says:

    Helloooooo, Elle! I feel your pain, as does everyone who has ever seen a favorite book butchered by a feeble attempt to make a movie of it. I didn’t understand why until the 1980s, when I got hooked on the CBC production of some of the Sherlock Holmes stories starring Jeremy Brett. These followed the stories precisely in what they put on the screen, word for word, scene for scene. What’s the problem? The material used to produce a one-hour TV show amounted to twelve pages of text. Using that standard, to present a 300 page novel precisely translated would require 25 hours of screen time. Nobody is going to sit through that, and nobody is going to risk (or could afford) producing that movie. It’s insurmountable, and when a studio buys the movie rights for a book, everyone understands up front that the book is no more than a guideline. Sad but true…

    • elletodd says:

      That DOES make me sad! I’ve seen it done well, before. I suppose I should accept that that was an exception, rather than the rule. The rule is what I suffered through last night.

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