Six of the Best: Emma Bell

Six of the Best: Emma Bell

March 13, 2023


The senior VP of creative and brand and executive producer at International Literary Properties picks half-a-dozen memorable dramas while revealing some fundamental truths about successful book-to-screen adaptations.

The best book-to-screen adaptation takes the spirit of the original work and adds a fresh creative spark that successfully connects it to new audiences. French writer Maurice Leblanc created the character of fictional gentleman thief and master of disguise Arsène Lupin in 1905. A huge international hit, this show cleverly leans into the literary tradition of Lupin while also creating plenty of new space in which to play. Making Lupin the inspiration of protagonist Assane Diope, guiding him to “always be one step ahead,” is a great example of how classic characters can be stylishly updated for large global audiences. Lupin is a cultural touchstone in France, and star Omar Sy is inspired, charismatic casting. Lupin has emotional heart, reflecting race and immigration in a timely way, and the heist is fun and entertaining.

Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgerton is a bold, beautiful and brilliant landmark show that, like The Great, changed expectations of what period drama adaptation can be. Unexpected and modern, it also leans into a long, rich and witty literary tradition. The show is based on novels by Julia Quinn, who herself was influenced by the original Queen of Regency Romance, Georgette Heyer, who established the perennially popular genre in the early-mid 20th century. Bridgerton is a triumph of taking a world audiences think they know and challenging them to think again – while listening to Billy Eilish on strings. Bridgerton reminds us that great adaptations pass the creative baton to visionaries with the ability to change expectations of the genre and evolve it.

This is Going to Hurt
This is Going to Hurt is powerful, darkly funny and extremely painful to watch. Based on Adam Kay’s 2017 memoir, it brilliantly combines characters and performances to deliver a show that stays with you. Exploring the choices we make, the rules we operate within and our expectations of the NHS and those working within it, the show is ultimately a moving examination of what it means to be human. It’s not enough to care. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Uncomfortably brilliant, it delivered a distinctly authored lens to an urgent conversation.

Slow Horses
Clever creative matchmaking is at the heart of great adaptations, and the genius of Slow Horses is evident in the creative chemistry of Mick Herron’s novels combined with Will Smith’s screenwriting. Both writers are brilliant observers of office politics and the nuanced interactions between colleagues – great and small – that provide such consistently satisfying comedy to underpin the action. Slow Horses is simultaneously a modern espionage thriller and a masterclass in workplace dysfunction. Cleverly drawn characters and an outstanding ensemble cast, led by Gary Oldman, further demonstrate the creative authenticity at its heart and make this funny and entertaining show fly.

Killing Eve
Luke Jennings’ 2017 book, Codename Villanelle, a combination of several e-book novellas published from 2014 to 2016, shows just how the creative and commercial symbiosis between TV and publishing can drive success for both. Continued creative collaborations between authors and producers inspire more ideas and deliver more opportunities. Killing Eve was a genuinely fresh take on the spy genre, with a female protagonist and antagonist and strong female-led writing room. Its international success took the story to a wider audience, sparking more conversations than the book alone.

His Dark Materials
Making TV drama is hard, so every adaptation needs a committed champion with vision. His Dark Materials is ambitious in scale and scope, in terms of both the story it tells and what it demands from a family audience. Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels is beloved and canonical, so the stakes were always going to be sky-high. It is an enormous achievement as an adaptation for many reasons: tackling the complexity of the world and its lore, taking the time to do it justice and delivering production in an innovative way. But Jane Tranter’s commitment to making the trilogy over many years, from securing the rights to patiently finding the right home for it, is a lesson in both tenacity and timing.

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