August Osage County and the Top 10 Films Based on Plays…
Next week sees the release of jet black comedy August Osage County on DVD and Blu-Ray, one of 2014’s most critically adored films. Based on the Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, the film tells the story of a dysfunctional family that reunites into their familial home when one of their number disappears. The cast is incredible, with the likes of Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch and Juliette Lewis all in the ensemble. It’s taut, very dark, very funny and very, very awkward at times.
To celebrate the release of the film, we’ve decided to round up the Top 10 films that started life as plays and made the transition to the silver screen with great aplomb. A few ground rules. No musicals and no Shakespeare, there are just too many of both, instead we’ve just focused on the films that started life on the stage and wound up on the big screen. Here we go…
10. Inherit The Wind
Based on the 1955 play from Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, this 1960 screen adaptation tells the true life story of a 1925 case that saw two great lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution. Seen as a thinly-veiled metaphor for McCarthyism (US Senator Joseph McCarthy relentless crusade to drive anyone with communist sympathies out of the public eye), it starred Gene Kelly and Spencer Tracy and remains a brilliant courtroom drama, in the same league as the likes of To Kill A Mockingbird.
Patrick Marber’s 1997 play was brought to the big screen by British director Mike Nichols and starred Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman as two couples whose lives become hopelessly and horribly intertwined. It’s big on profanity and low on holding back, it’s a brutal exploration of the frailties of the human heart and full of profundity wrapped in barbed prose.
8. Dial M For Murder
This is an interesting one. It was written by Frederick Knott for the stage, but was filmed for the BBC in 1952, back when they would quite simply film plays and broadcast them. Alfred Hitchcock transplanted it to the cinema two years later and took it from a single setting in a flat to a mult-faceted motion picture. Starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, it tells the story of an ex-tennis pro who attempts to carry out a plot to murder his wife. When his plan goes very wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B.
7. Long Day's Journey Into Night
This 1962 adaptation of Eugene O’Neil’s play keeps the intimacy and tension firmly in the forefront as it follows the lives of the dysfunctional members of the Tyrone Family back in 1912. Featuring a cast that has the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson and Dean Stockwell, this is one of legendary director Sidney Lumet’s finest films. It absolutely still holds up today.
Peter Morgan’s 2006 retelling of the legendary interview between David Frost and disgraced President Richard Nixon wowed audiences went it opened in London and then transferred to Broadway. For the film adaptation, director Ron Howard opted to keep leading men Michael Sheen and Frank Langella and brought the play’s claustrophobic feel to the big screen with real aplomb. The performances are remarkable, this is a total must-see.
5. Angels In America
This is cheating a little bit, as it became an HBO Mini-Series, but it’s so wonderful it has to be included. Adapted from Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer winner, this had a cast that included Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson and draw rave reviews from the second it hit TV screens. Set in 1985, this is a political epic about the AIDS crisis and how it affects a group of separate but connected individuals. Poignant and beautifully written, this is well worth going back to.
4. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Tennessee Williams bagged a Pulitzer Prize for his heart-breaking story of Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, who is merrily drinking his days away, when he’s forced to attend his father’s birthday with his warring family, bringing to the fore all sorts of issues, demons and screaming rows. Featuring a starry cast that includes Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives, the film keeps the acid wit and unbearable tension of Williams’ play, but broadens it suitably for the cinema screen.
Originally a 1970 Tony-award winning play from writer Anthony Shaffer, this 1972 film adaptation saw Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine face-off in a battle of wits. After Olivier's character Andrew Wyke discovers his wife is having a affair with a young hairdresser named Milo (Caine), Wyke sets out to reduce the amount he would need to hand over in divorce payments by persuading Milo to steal his wife's jewels. Thing is, both men don't really like each other and constantly attempt to bring each other down with a series of ever more daring stunts. This is a gripping must-see, but avoid the recent remake and stick with the original.
2. A Few Good Men
This launched the career of The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and remains a brutally powerful piece of work. Originally staged on Broadway in 1989, it made it to the big screen three years later with a cast that included Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. It got nominated for four Oscars and launched the career of Sorkin, who has gone to become one of our time’s great writers.
1. A Streetcar Named Desire
Another Tennessee Williams play, another Pulitzer Prize winner, another excellent adaptation, which bagged three Oscars and is consistently named as one of the greatest films ever made. Released in 1951, the film tells the story of disturbed heroine Blanche DuBois, who moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law while her reality crumbles around her. Starring Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, this is an absolute classic and a total must-see.
August: Osage County is released on DVD and Blu-Ray next week (May 26th) in hmv stores across the UK.