Remake of BBC’s adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy reopens debate over lack of originality from studio bosses
Plans for a spate of big budget remakes of classic films and television series this summer have raised fears among screenwriters that the scope of cinematic entertainment is being seriously limited.
As a new feature-length version of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy completes filming in London, with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley and Colin Firth as his arch rival, Bill Haydon, British writers are echoing concerns in Hollywood that producers are turning to tried and tested stories rather than taking a chance on an original screenplay.
“We should be doing original new films and new adaptations of novels, of course we should, but remakes are very tempting even though they are rarely better than the originals. In fact, I can’t think of one remake that is better,” said Ronald Harwood, the Oscar-winning playwright who wrote the screenplay for The Pianist and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Alongside the Le Carré remake, which is out in September and will also star Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and Kathy Burke, remakes of the 1970s hits Don’t Look Now and Logan’s Run are in development in America. The planned “re-imagining” of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which starred Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, provoked a strong reaction when it promised to provide more plotting and less scene-setting. “The original was very atmospheric, so we’ll provide a little more of the narrative that audiences expect,” producer Mark Gordon said.
In Los Angeles, fans of The Wizard of Oz have been unsettled by plans for rival new versions. Screenwriter Josh Olson, who wrote A History of Violence, has written a script for one of the potential remakes, simply titled Oz. The Warner Bros production will tell the story of a granddaughter of Judy Garland’s Dorothy who returns to Oz.
Olson has tried to combine elements from the 1939 MGM musical and the original L Frank Baum novel to keep both camps happy. “I’m aware of the fact that there are a couple of million people who will come to your house and burn it down if you don’t get it right,” he said
British screenwriter Andy MacIntosh, who writes thrillers under a different name, has found producers ready to take a risk with a new story, but believes it is a much slower process. “The trouble is the more remakes that are being made then the less room there is for fresh screenplays or new adaptations,” he said. “It is dreary really. There is really no point remaking something like Don’t Look Now that has become so much a symbol of its era.”
MacIntosh, who is currently adapting a foreign language short story for an American producer, added that screenwriters often complain that even recent films with original screenplays could no longer be made now. “A film like Morvern Callar, which starred Samantha Morton, for example, would apparently never be made now, but perhaps writers have always felt that.”
For Harwood, the 1979 television serialisation of Tinker, Tailor set the high-water mark for the adaptation of any novel. “It was spectacularly good. Alec Guinness gave what I think was the best TV performance ever by an actor. I don’t understand how they are going to cut that story down to two hours for the new film without losing some of the story and some of the texture.”
Harwood recently worked on an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist with director Roman Polanski. “I think it was actually very good, but it was a total miscalculation as a project because the success of the musical Oliver! had left no room for a return to the original story.” He added: “If you have to make a remake, make sure it is better.”