Whether your kids can’t get enough of reading or they can’t seem to get into it, these film adaptations of six classic pieces of literature will help them better understand the story, relate to the characters, and encourage their study of literature.
1. Pride and Prejudice (1940 & 1995) – PG (10+)
Jane Austen is one of the most talented authors in the world of literature and Pride and Prejudice is one of her most well-known novels. There have been many film adaptations of the story (and I have to admit I’ve seen almost all of them) but the best and most faithful would be the 1995 BBC version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
It is beautifully filmed and stays true to the book; however, it is a commitment to watch all the way through since it is almost six hours long. If you’re not sure you or your kids can handle that much screen time, then I would suggest the 1940 version with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson that is only two hours.
For those of you who do not know the P&P storyline, there is a major plot point in both films that revolves around a sixteen year old running off with a thirty year old man. In the 1995 version, there is a scene where the girl is lying on a bed in her nightgown and a robe but there is no nudity or discussion of anything sexual. The language can be difficult for young kids to understand but other than that, both films are very clean and enjoyable.
Hulu provides the 1995 version if you have a subscription.
2. Rebecca (1940) – PG-13 (13+)
This book is not on many school reading lists which is a shame since it is one of my favorite novels. Daphne du Maurier is a brilliant author and the story is compellingly mysterious. Just last year, Netflix released their version of Rebecca which I have religiously avoided watching. The only worthwhile version is the 1940 film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a wonderful film noir and perfectly captures the feel of the novel.
The only thing to keep in mind is that at one point in the film, one of the characters alludes to his wife possibly cheating on him, but young children would probably not pick up on this. Since it is a film noir, it gets a little intense but since it was made in the ‘40s, nothing bad happens.
Amazon provides the movie but you have to buy it as a DVD or Bluray.
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) – PG-13 (14+)
There are a few specific novels every person should read and To Kill A Mockingbird is one of them. The story revolves around a small town, Alabama lawyer who stands up against racism despite popular opinion. It is a beautiful story that upholds family and Christian morals. The 1962 film starring Gregory Peck is worth watching whether you or your teenagers have read the book or not (I’m of the mind everyone should read before watching). The film tells the story in a slow, winding way that is reminiscent of the book and the old South.
Unless your child has read the book at a younger age, I would rate this PG-13 due to the general storyline (the discussion of rape is an important part of the story). For a more specific synopsis, watch the trailer or read the Wikipedia synopsis.
Amazon video provides the movie to rent.
4. Othello (1952) – PG-13 (13+)
Shakespeare is the second most sold author in the world, just under the Bible and above Agatha Christie. There are many wonderful film adaptations of all his plays, but one of the most interesting is Orson Welles’ Othello made in 1952. Welles directs it and stars as the titular character. Although Hollywood was moving away from the film noir era, Welles’ take on Othello is an incredible film noir set in early 1600’s Italy.
Since the plot centers around a husband who thinks his wife is cheating on him, there is a scene where one character smothers another character in a bed (not graphic but could be startling), and the language can be difficult to understand, I would consider this to be a PG-13 adaptation.
Amazon provides the movie but it is unavailable right now, however, you can watch it through IMDbTV on Amazon with ads for free.
5. Anne of Green Gables (1985) – PG (7+)
Every young girl should read Anne of Green Gables. I don’t know many homeschool families who have not introduced this wonderful book to their daughters from an early age. The best film version is the 1985 Canadian TV drama starring Megan Follows.
Filmed completely in Canada near the actual setting of the book, not only is the story just as entertaining as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, it is beautifully filmed and soothing to watch. It is a little over three hours long, but totally worth it. It’s a staple at my house and a great family movie.
Amazon provides the movie but, like Rebecca, you have to buy it as a DVD.
6. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) – PG-13 (14+)
Kenneth Branagh released his version of Agatha Christie’s famous mystery novel a few years ago, and like the new Rebecca, you won’t find me watching it. The 1974 version starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, and Sean Connery is the best adaptation I’ve seen. The director reused an original train such as what the Orient Express would have looked like. Out of all the films in this list, this is probably the one movie that takes the most liberty with the text, but overall, it’s about eighty percent faithful to the story.
At one point you see a man was killed by a knife and there are blotches of blood on his pajamas; the film opens with an intense sequence showing how a little girl was kidnapped. It is not graphic, but the music creates an intense atmosphere.
Amazon provides the movie to rent. Hulu provides the movie to watch with Cinemax if you have a subscription.
7. Emma (1996) – G (9+)
Known as the Austen’s lightest novel, Emma tells the story of a matchmaking young women content with setting up those around her without realizing it is her turn to be matched up. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Toni Colette, and a very young Ewan McGregor star in the delightful 1996 version of the classic British book. It is the most faithful adaptation in terms of character portrayal and plot.
8. Sense and Sensibility (1996) – PG (11+)
The story of two sisters struggling to find love and purpose in a world without protection is captivating to say the least. It is a book everyone should read for its sweet sincerity and unapologetic perspective of the early 1800s. Each woman can see aspects of themselves in Elinor and Marianne in different eras of their life. Emma Thompson brilliantly adapted the novel for the 1996 version starring herself, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman. Like Emma and Pride and Prejudice, the ‘90s just did it better.
9. Wuthering Heights (1939) – G (10+)
Sweeping, passionate, dramatic, overwhelming: these words sum up the classic gothic novel, Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte lays out the tragic love story of Heathcliff and Cathy against the wildness of the Moors of England. Out of the various film adaptations, the 1939 version stands out as the most faithful and best, starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. The movie does not include the second half of the book since it covers two generations of the two main families, rather ending with the first half.
10. Jane Eyre (2011) – PG-13
Charlotte Bronte wrote her famous novel, Jane Eyre, in 1847; since then, countless adaptations of every artistic kind have swept the world, offering Bronte’s genius to all. Jane Eyre is one of the most important female characters within literature. Possibly even more gothic than Wuthering Heights, Jane endures abuse as a child until she accepts a job as governess in the house of the mysterious and brooding Mr. Rochester, a man who will change her life forever. The best adaptation is the 2011 film starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.
11. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – PG (12+)
Who reads books written by the enemy? Typically no one. Yet this novel centered around a German solider fighting in World War I will move each reader to tears. It is a little bizarre to the soldiers referencing the “enemy” and realize it’s us, the Allies, the good guys. In 1930 and again in 2022, film adaptations of the novel were released. Both are true to the story but the 1930 version is the superior one. It beautifully captures the emotion of the story through the characters and their actions without making any statements about politics.
All Quiet on the Western Front is worth reading because it exposes how the German soldiers felt during the end of World War I. It is important to remember these were not the Nazis so in no way does the book promote any fascist ideology It merely represents the other side of a complicated and horrific war that set the twentieth century in motion.
12. Great Expectations (1946) – PG (10+)
Each of Charles Dickens’ novels and novellas have been turned into movies or riffs on certain characters and plots. In 1946, a black and white version of Great Expectations was released with great success. Jean Simmons, Alec Guinness, and John Mills shine in the roles of Estelle, Herbert Pocket, and Pip respectively. Great Expectations follows Pip as he grows from an innocent boy to a naive young man, navigating love and family throughout it all. This film adaptation portrays Dickens’ memorable characters and plot in a moving manner that will capture the interest of your whole family.
13. Little Women (1994) – PG (8+)
Just as everyone has their favorite March sister, everyone has their favorite adaptation. The lovely 1994 version best displays Louisa May Alcott’s lengthy and moving novel. Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, and Susan Sarandon portray the beloved characters in such a manner that will move every audience to laughter and tears, often simultaneously. The March sisters will enchant you in both book and film.
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