There are lots of great modern romance novels out there. And there are plenty of wonderfully romantic movies. Oddly enough, the latter aren’t usually based on the former (modern romance novels; in this one instance, Jane Austen doesn’t count). Which is not to say there aren’t any at all, but Twilight aside, most of them appear on cable television. And those I’ve seen, well… let’s just say they weren’t entirely successful
It makes sense, when you think about it. Romances are written by and for women. Movies, wide-release movies anyway, are aimed at a broader demographic. And the two storytelling forms are very different. The things that give a romance novel oomph – the emotional insights and changes – are interior processes. Stuff that happens inside people’s heads doesn’t always translate well to the screen.
Nothing wrong with that. I certainly love books, but I also love movies, and I don’t expect the same things from each. But I do believe that many modern romance novels would make fun,
highly-watchable movies. Here are a handful.
First, some historicals:
The Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer
Basic premise The son and daughter of an adventurer, Robin and Prudence have led a vagabond life. After Bonnie Prince Charlie fails to retake his throne, the siblings arrive in London to take part in one of their father’s schemes, posing as Kate and Peter, respectively. Thus disguised, each meets his or her perfect match. Zaniness ensues.
it could work This novel has everything you could ask for in a historical adventure:
fabulous clothes; blackmail schemes; elopments; duels; cross-dressing; all delivered with wit and a delightful sense swashbuckling adventure.
Who should direct Kenneth Branagh. His Much Ado About Nothing is ample demonstration that he can handle the costumes, language, characters and manners of past ages while making them relevant to today. He also has a feel for which scenes can be safely left out without damaging the whole. And he would be absolutely perfect for the role of the siblings’ irrepressible father.
Magic Flutes, by Eva Ibbotson
Basic Premise Guy Farnes, a wealthy Englishman in Vienna after the first World War, buys the famous Castle Pfaffenstein. The former owner is Princess Theresa-Maria, who, given the downfall of her family, works
incognito for an opera company in Vienna. Farnes hires that companyto stage a show at Pfaffenstein, and finds himself captivated by an employee named Tessa…
Why it could work The opera – planning, rehearsing, staging – provides a solid
framework for the love story. And it would give viewers a glimpse of a time and place in history we don’t often see in film, post WWI Vienna.
Who should direct Joe Wright, who did something of the sort with Atonement. Magic Flutes takes place after the war, not during, but Wright deftly chronicled a time when life as everyone knew it changed forever. He also captured the cataclysmic changes in the existing societal structure, and the pitfalls along the way.
Agnes and the Hitman, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
Basic Premise Shane is a covert ops agent called back to his hometown by his
uncle. Agnes is a food writer whose house is the epicentre of a decades old mob plot involving millions of dollars. Sparks fly, both between the main characters and during all the firefights.
Why it could work The relationships in this book progress through dialogue. Funny,
brash, startling dialogue, the kind that would actually work on screen. And there are fist-fights, shoot-outs and rocket launchers enough to keep even the most bloodthirsty of audiences satisfied.
Who should direct Shane Black. His Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang featured the same sort of rapid-fire dialogue, and proved he can steer a film from violence to humour and back again with consummate grace. He also balanced two disparate main characters (one highly competent, one… not so much) with ease.
Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Basic Premise Before training starts, star quarterback Dean wants to visit his new country home. En route, he encounters a woman in a beaver suit stomping down the highway. Blue is an artist tired of making do with stupid part-time jobs. She convinces Dean to give her a ride, and the resulting road trip, and destination, is an eye-opener for both of them.
Why it could work It has a similar air to the classic Hepburn/Tracy flicks: a funny story with a serious core, though with a more modern outlook. It also provides ample opportunity for sight-gags: properly handled, the whole beaver-suit scene could be hilarious.
Who should direct Howard Deutch. He helmed Some Kind of Wonderful, which hits a lot of the same notes: the gap between rich and poor; the struggle to figure out who you want to be; lots of scenes in a car. Plus he also directed The Replacements
(which, though dumb in parts, remains my favourite gridiron movie ever), so he can be trusted with the football parts of the story.
All of these sugggestions would require much adaptation, of course. Subplots would have to be stripped out or simplified, along with many lesser characters. But in the right hands, these could be box office smashes. And I, for one, would be there on opening night.
Chris Szego enjoyed mentally casting these movies.