Bookworms, rejoice. As we look forward to a safe return to movie theatres in the near future, let’s plan our summer reading list accordingly. The upcoming release schedule has a number of notable film adaptations. This means that read-the-book-before-seeing-the-movie-nerds like myself have lots to devour for the year ahead. Let’s crack the spine on a good book and get excited for some movies.
Last year’s list actually has several films that were doubly delayed due to the extended lockdowns and production freezes. Add Dune, Nightmare Alley, and Scarborough to your summer reading list if some of these books don’t tickle your fancy.
Here are ten upcoming film adaptations to beef up your summer reading list before theatres reopen.
The Last Duel by Eric Jager
Could 2021 finally be Ridley Scott’s year for Best Director? The Gladiator nominee returns to the world of hot-blooded historical films with The Last Duel. The film recounts the bizarre true story of an epic duel between knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). When de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of a violent rape, and no evidence can determine the she said/he said case, a judge orders the mystery solved via trial by combat. The ruse? The men must duel to the death, assuming that God’s hand will guide the virtuous party. The kicker? If Jean loses, Marguerite dies too with under decry that the whole thing’s a lie caused by her wickedness.
The book leaves no ambiguity to what happened, but the case truly captivates as it culminates in the 1386 duel. The nasty and barbarous affair makes clear why it was the final trial of its kind. In perhaps the most novel screenwriting team ever, moreover, Damon reunites Ben Affleck while Nicole Holofcener’s rewrite adds a feminist perspective. The Last Duel is the Ridley Scott/Nicole Holofcener action movie we’ve all been waiting for, baby!
The Last Duel is set for release October 16.
The Stars at Noon by Denis Johnson
Claire Denis adapts this meditative novel about a young journalist navigating a web of lies during the 1984 Nicaraguan Revolution. The story puts Denis back in White Material territory with a hint of Bastards. Johnson’s book is a simmering thriller with conflicts amplified by colonial tensions. The Stars at Noon promises a sweaty and sexy kind of thriller-that-doesn’t-thrill as most of the book sees the unnamed journalist holed up in seedy motels with a shady Englishman. This book reads the way Denis shoots: unsentimental, yet poetic in its directness. The film will rely heavily on the heat provided by stars Margaret Qualley and Robert Pattinson, but Denis does this is kind of material well. It’s a tale of simmering moments amid an atmosphere of free-flowing unease.
The Stars at Noon is in production. A24 has North American distribution rights.
The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage
From the first paragraph, I knew this book suited Jane Campion. Dog begins by describing a bull’s castration in graphic detail. The figurative castration that follows in the subsequent chapters, moreover, is right up her alley. The book tells of two brothers, George and Phil, whose simple ranch life is disrupted when George, the younger and meeker sibling, gets married. He invites his new wife and her teenage son to the ranch and they (naturally) clash with the boorish Phil. The Power of the Dog promises a juicy part for Benedict Cumberbatch, while Jesse Plemons is perfectly cast and Kirsten Dunst should have a chance to shine as Rose, George’s wife who struggles to adjust to domestic life and Phil’s domineering ways. This book is a thoughtful, meditative cross between a western and a domestic drama with rich characters and no-bullshit prose.
The Power of the Dog will be released by Netflix this year.
Passing by Nella Larsen
After Passing’s acclaimed Sundance debut, expect Rebecca Hall to be a contender in this year’s Best Adapted Screenplay race. Hall makes her feature directorial debut with this take on Nella Larsen’s novella. Passing recounts the relationship of two Black women, Irene and Clare, in 1920s Harlem as they navigate the different worlds that systemic racism breeds. Irene wrestles with her family’s elevated status, while Clare passes as white while married to a racist husband. The adaptation features stunning performances by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare, respectively. Hall smartly relies on her actors to convey the emotional complexity of passing while sharing a story that’s close to her heart. Negga particularly steals every scene in which she appears with an award-calibre performance. She’s heartbreakingly good. With any justice, she’ll be a frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actress race this fall.
Passing will be released on Netflix later this year.
The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne
Ralph Fiennes is set to play his biggest asshole yet with The Forgiven. Fiennes plays a snobby Brit who plows down a young man while driving to a weekend getaway in Morocco. Tensions run high as the boy’s father demands that David escort the body to their village. David’s wife Jo (Jessica Chastain), meanwhile, stays at the party to confront her failing marriage some insufferable people. Jo centres the book with a soul-searching sense of humanity. This role could do very well by Chastain and vice versa.
Production for this film by Cavalry’s John Michael McDonagh paused during COVID and one wonders how it will fare. Following the racial reckoning of 2020, The Forgiven’s story about bougie white people and their spoiled holiday will inevitably spark backlash. However, it’s ultimately a compelling story about the danger of unchecked privilege. David is one of those characters who only discovers accountability when it’s too late. If handled well, The Forgiven could help Hollywood further some important conversations.
The Forgiven is in post-production.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Mélanie Laurent must be quite the bookworm. The actress-turned-director has two upcoming adaptations. Her Le bal des folles is among the first dozen titles tapped for TIFF. Her next project, The Nightingale, promises to be her biggest production yet. Based on Kristin Hannah’s hugely popular novel, The Nightingale is about two sisters in France who are torn apart by the Nazis’ arrival. One finds herself in survival mode when the Nazis requisition her home; the other becomes passionately involved with the resistance. The real headline, however, is that Laurent’s film features the first onscreen pairing of Elle Fanning and Dakota Fanning. Although they both appeared in I Am Sam, they’ve never acted together. Elle arguably usurped Dakota’s crown in a career that made better choices, so The Nightingale will be the ultimate Fanning showdown. Place your bets!
The Nightingale is set for release on December 23, 2022.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Some reviewers have described Mothering Sunday as “picking up where Downton Abbey left off.” The book is a tale of forbidden romance in a country during a time of change. Housemaid Jane dashes off to wed the heir of her employers’ neighbours. Class and tradition collide in an upstairs/downstairs romance that would give Mr. Carson the willies. Although the film’s director, Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun, Bang Gang) is not as consistent as novelist Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday is great material in the right hands.
Moreover, it has the most exciting cast as far as Brit pics go this year: Alicia Vikander and Josh O’Connor play the star-crossed lovers, while Octavia Spencer and Colin Firth play Jane’s employers. Not wanting for a shortage of Oscar winners, the cast features two-time winner Glenda Jackson in her first feature film role in nearly 30 years. If those aren’t reasons enough to crack the book’s spine, here’s the best part: Mothering Sunday isn’t even 200 pages long! Short and sweet!
Mothering Sunday premieres at Cannes and is set for a fall release in Canada from Mongrel Media.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Everything old is new again with Hollywood’s love for intellectual property rights! Kenneth Branagh returns as Agatha Christie’s mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot. After the success of 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh remakes the other star-studded Christie adaptation. Nile, both the book and original film, essentially offers a lesser version of Orient Express. Switch the train for a boat, and it’s basically the same story. However, this one offers old-fashioned Hollywood exoticism with the dangerous beauty of the Egyptian landscape! Branagh seemed to have a lot of fun as Poirot in Orient Express, and the A-list whodunit, familiar as it may be, promises a throwback to classic Hollywood escapism. Joining Branagh in this star-studded adventure are Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright, and most notably Sophie Okonedo reprising Angela Lansbury’s role and Dawn French taking over for Maggie Smith.
But when we haven’t travelled in over a year, familiar ground can be therapeutic. Of all the books on this summer reading list, it’s probably best suited for the beach. Or, better yet, a train full of nefarious characters.
Death on the Nile is set for a February 2022 release.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Something wicked this way comes, I hope! Besides being the Bard’s best tragedy in my books, Macbeth might be the most cinematic Shakespeare thanks to witches and bloodbaths that populate the verse. Denzel Washington stars as the titular king, while Frances McDormand plays the lady with blood on her hands. Moreover, the latest adaptation of Macbeth proves especially novel as a solo outing for director Joel Coen. Brother Ethan isn’t joining for the ride this time. But McDormand and Joel (her husband) are among the best actor-director combos. She already threw some Macbeth quotes into her Oscar speech this year and has obviously has as much a handle on the verse as she does for wicked characters.
Shakespearean tragedy doesn’t sound especially Coen-esque, mind you, but the malleability and timelessness of the plays prove continually rich for auteur cinema. Even though numerous directors adapt Shakespeare annually—notable Macbeth films include Orson Welles’ 1948 mess, , Roman Polanski’s 1970 Playboy romp, Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 masterpiece Throne of Blood and most recently Justin Kurzel’s 2015 take with Michael Fassbender and a sinfully good Marion Cotillard—the thrill of seeing these familiar works adapted anew is recognizing the distinct vision of each director.
Macbeth is scheduled for release in 2021, but no Canadian distributor has been announced. (A24 has it for USA.)
House of Gucci by Sarah Gay Forden
The glamour! The greed! The murder! The madness! Things get awfully Shakespearean in The House of Gucci. This captivating take on the fashion family dynasty has it all and should be atop every cinephile’s summer reading list. Sarah Gay Forden’s impeccably well-researched and highly readable book recounts the Gucci family’s dramatic rise and fall. There’s backstabbing galore as the Italian clan becomes consumed by the power that popular shoes and chic bags bring.
House of Gucci makes this year a double header for director Ridley Scott, too, as he follows the historical drama The Last Duel with this scintillating tale. The film has a stacked cast with Adam Drivers as the ill-fated Maurizio Gucci, Lady Gaga as his jilted wife, Patrizia, and Al Pacino and Jared Leto among the Gucci clan. The film should be quite different from the book, however, with early reports that the story will be told from Patrizia’s perspective and Lady Gaga narrating.
Set for a November 24 release. Variety recently reported that House of Gucci will not be ready for Venice, so don’t be shocked if it’s not at TIFF too. But that means there’s plenty of time to read it over the summer. It pairs spectacularly with a negroni!
What other books for 2021 film adaptations are on your summer reading list?