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October 5, 2021

From the Stage to the Silver Screen: Plays Adapted to Film


There’s nothing quite like watching a piece of live theatre, though sometimes it’s also nice to see the shows we love from a new perspective and in a new environment – something that cinema gives us a chance to do!

We’ve compiled a list of some Concord Theatricals plays that have been adapted for the silver screen. How many have you seen?

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer (US/UK)

In the court of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II, Antonio Salieri enjoys his status as a respected composer to the court. Enter the greatest musical genius of all time: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri, who has given himself to God so that he might realize his sole ambition, hungers to be a great composer. Mozart, a foul-mouthed, graceless oaf, has the one thing beyond Salieri’s envious grasp: genius.

Adapted in: 1984

The film adaptation had a fantastic reception when it was released, and captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike. Its success was recognized at the Academy Awards, where it received 11 nominations and went on to win eight, including Best Picture.

American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown (US/UK)

An estranged biracial couple must confront their feelings about race and bias after their son is detained by the local police following a traffic stop incident. Their disparate histories and backgrounds inform their assumptions as they try to find out what happened to their son.

Adapted in: 2019

This movie adaptation was directed by Kenny Leon, well-known for his directorial work on stage, including A Raisin in the Sun, Fences and Children of a Lesser God (US/UK). Starring actors Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale, the adaption received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Television Movie.

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward (US/UK)

The smash comedy hit of the London and Broadway stages offers up fussy, cantankerous novelist Charles Condomine, remarried but haunted (literally) by the ghost of his late first wife, the clever and insistent Elvira, who is called up by a visiting “happy medium,” one Madame Arcati. As the (worldly and un-) personalities clash, Charles’ current wife, Ruth, is accidentally killed, “passes over,” joins Elvira, and the two “blithe spirits” haunt the hapless Charles into perpetuity.

Adapted in: 1945 and 2020

The 1945 film adaptation of this well-known Coward comedy was one of director David Lean’s early works and, though it was not the most well received – by audiences or Noël Coward himself, his directorial fame has ensured that it lives on.

Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff (US/UK)

Premiering at the Mark Taper Forum in LA in 1979, Children of a Lesser God follows a developing relationship between James, a young speech therapist, and Sarah, a school dropout who has been totally deaf from birth. James, despite fluency in sign language, is unable to help Sarah with her studies, though the two fall in love and marry. As their relationship unfolds, the chasm between the worlds of sound and silence seems to widen…but love and compassion hold the hope of reconciliation.

Adapted in: 1986

The play was adapted into a film by screenwriter Hesper Anderson and playwright Mark Medoff. It received five nominations at the 59th Academy Awards, including a nomination for Best Picture. Marlee Matlin, starring as Sarah, won an Oscar for her performance, becoming the youngest winner in the category as well as the only deaf winner in Oscar history.

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter (US)

A musical drama of Judy Garland’s “comeback” concerts Christmas 1968: with a six-week booking at London’s Talk of the Town, it looks like Judy Garland is set firmly on the comeback trail. The failed marriages, the suicide attempts and the addictions are all behind her. At forty-six and with new flame Mickey Deans at her side, she seems determined to carry it off and recapture her magic.

Adapted in: 2019

Adapted for the silver screen as Judy, it featured Renée Zellweger as Garland, winning her a Golden Globe Award, SAG Award, BAFTA Award, and the Academy Award for Best Actress.

August Wilson’s Fences (US/UK)

This sensational drama starred James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro baseball leagues who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy’s bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball. Revived in 2010 starring Denzel Washington in the lead role.

Adapted in: 2016

This incredibly moving play was brought to life by its brilliant cast, including Viola Davis and Denzel Washington, who not only starred but also produced and directed the film.

Nominated for four Academy Awards and two Golden Globes, this was a very well received adaption of a much-loved play.

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (US/UK)

Amanda Wingfield is a faded, tragic remnant of Southern gentility who lives in poverty in a dingy St. Louis apartment with her son, Tom, and her daughter, Laura. Amanda strives to give meaning and direction to her life and the lives of her children, though her methods are ineffective. Tom is driven nearly to distraction by his mother’s nagging and seeks escape in alcohol and the world of the movies. Laura also lives in her illusions. She is disabled and her limitations, intensified by her mother’s anxiety to see her married, have driven her more and more into herself. That is, until Tom invites an unexpected visitor to the house, changing the dynamics of this troubled family.

Adapted in: 1950, 1966, 1973 and 1987

The first of Williams’ plays to be adapted into film, 1950’s The Glass Menagerie was co-adapted by the playwright himself. Surprisingly though, Tennessee Williams was left disappointed by the final result and openly criticised various aspects of the film.

In 1987 the play was brought to life once again by Paul Newman, starring his wife Joanne Woodward as Amanda Wingfield. It was Newman’s final film as director before his passing in 2008.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton and Choderlos de Laclos (US/UK)

A tale of seduction set in France among aristocrats before the revolution, this classic drama explores decadent sexuality, morals and manipulation played as the ultimate game, with tragic results. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s stunning production met with acclaim in Stratford, London and on Broadway.

Adapted in: 1988

Dangerous Liaisons has become a classic, not only for its storyline and fabulous costumes, but for the all-star cast that accompanied them. Starring the likes of Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter Capaldi, Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman, it’s a firm favorite for fans.

Although there have been many adaptations of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel of the same name, there is only one adaptation based on the play, featuring a screenplay by playwright Christopher Hampton himself.

Murder on the Nile by Agatha Christie (US/UK)

Kay Ridgeway has led a charmed life. Blessed with beauty, enormous wealth and a new husband, she embarks on a honeymoon voyage down the Nile. Fatal circumstances await when the idyllic surroundings are shattered by a shocking and brutal murder. Under scrutiny is a multitude of memorable passengers, all with a reason to kill. The tension and claustrophobia builds, as a shocking and audacious conspiracy is laid bare.

Adapted in: 1978 and 2020

Both of these adaptations of Murder on the Nile went by the title of the novel instead – Death on the Nile – and both featured star-studded casts.

The 1978 film included Jane Birkin, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jon Finch, Angela Lansbury, David Niven and Dame Maggie Smith, and was filmed in Egypt in the space of seven weeks. John Guillermin commented that the Egyptian government were supportive of the film because there were so many Agatha Christie fans in the country, and the story was safe and unpolitical in nature.

The 2020 release of Death on the Nile, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, will also feature a plethora of well-known actors, including Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders and Letitia Wright.

Noises Off by Michael Frayn (US/UK)

Noises Off presents a manic menagerie of itinerant actors rehearsing a flop called Nothing’s On. Doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, and an errant herring all figure in the plot of this hilarious and classically comic play.

The play opens with a touring company dress-rehearsing Nothing’s On, a conventional farce. Mixing mockery and homage, Frayn heaps into this play-within-a-play a hilarious melée of stock characters and situations.

Adapted in: 1992

The uproarious comedy was brought to life onscreen in 1992 by a great cast, including Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Marilu Henner, Nicollette Sheridan, Julie Hagerty and Denholm Elliott.

Though written with the stage in mind, this adaptation had moviegoers and critics in stitches, receiving fairly good reviews all-round.

The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry (US/UK)

Tracy Lord, of the Philadelphia Lords, is a headstrong and spoiled young woman. Divorced from C.K. Dexter Haven, she is engaged to a successful young snob. A society weekly sends a reporter and female photographer to cover the wedding arrangements. Tracy finds herself growing interested in the reporter Mike Connor, and following the pre-wedding bash, they take a moonlight swim and are then surprised by Dexter and the fiancé. The following morning her intended smugly forgives her, enraging Tracy, who breaks off the engagement. Connor offers to marry her, but she turns him down and remarries Dexter, the real love of her life, after all.

Adapted in: 1940

Starring eminent actors such as Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart, this film was a huge hit, and went on to be adapted into a musical called High Society.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two: Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (US/UK)

Set on Chicago’s South Side, Lorraine Hansberry’s drama revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis, and matriarch Lena. When her deceased husband’s insurance money comes through, Mama Lena dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. The Younger family’s heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration.

Adapted in: 1961 and 2005

The 2005 adaptation of Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, featuring the likes of Sean Combs (aka rapper P. Diddy), Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, was well received by audiences, however it’s the original film version from 1961 that truly made its mark.

Starring much of the same cast that had already taken Broadway by storm, this film truly felt as though it brought the beauty of theatre to the silver screen. In 2005 the film was selected for preservation in the United States of America National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet (US/UK)

Two male office workers, Danny and Bernie, are on the make in the swinging singles scene of the early 1970s. Danny meets Deborah in a library, and soon they are lovers as well as roommates. The other couple, Bernie and Joan, seem to have the politics of sex down pat, but are as confused as their more naive counterparts. After much comic drama, the two men end as they started, talking a good game in the local bar.

Adapted in: 1986 and 2014

These adaptations went under the title of About Last Night and included funny, well-known casts. The 1986 version of the romantic comedy featured Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins, and was centred around Chicago yuppies entering their first relationship.

In 2014 it was given a modern twist and a change of location too, moving from Chicago to LA. Also featuring an all-star cast, including Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall and Joy Bryant, director Steve Pink and writer Leslye Headland’s adaptation of Mamet’s comedy brought a whole new life to the material.

Still Life by Noël Coward (US/UK)

In a suburban rail station, Dr. Harvey removes a cinder from Laura’s eye and they fall in love. Subsequent weekly meetings over tea, scenes debating respectability or love, and some sentimental moments transpire before they decide they must part forever. He is accepting a faraway post and she must return to a circumspect life. At their last meeting, a chattering friend swoops down and there is no chance for a final goodbye.

Adapted in: 1945

Produced and written by Coward himself, and featuring Joyce Carey, with whom he had a close personal relationship, the film adaptation, entitled Brief Encounter, could almost be seen as a passion project – one met with a lot of praise. It is now regarded as a true piece of British cinematic history, and in 1999, the British Film Institute voted Brief Encounter the second-greatest British film of all time.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (US/UK)

The play reveals to the very depths the character of Blanche duBois, a gentile Southern woman who erases the realities of her painful and bitter life by embracing romantic delusions. The pressure of living in New Orleans with her sister Stella, intensified by Stella’s earthy and volatile young husband Stanley, leads Blanche to descend from tragic self-delusion into utter madness.

Adapted in: 1951, 1984, and 1995

Though there have been a few adaptations made of this Tennessee Williams classic, it’s the 1951 film that really made a mark. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and starring Marlon Brando – relatively unknown at the time – and Vivienne Leigh, it captured the heart of audiences worldwide.

In 1999 its significance within the film industry was also recognized when it was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

Inspired by these adaptations? Discover more adaptable plays to fall in love with on our website.

In the US/North America, click here. In the UK/Europe, click here.

Header Photo: 2018 Broadway production of American Son (Peter Cunningham).