The festive period has witnessed numerous literary adaptations. In previous years we have seen various interpretations including Dickensian (2015-16), And Then There Were None (2015) and The Witness for the Prosecution (2016). Christie and Dickens have always been favourites for screen-writers at Christmas. However, on Boxing Day 2017, two eminent novels were re-made for our screens: Louisa May Alcott’s treasured Little Women and Jessie Burton’s 17th century thriller The Miniaturist. Each year, these adaptations captivate the attention of millions of viewers who have either loved the novel, or haven’t had the chance to read it yet. So why are these literary adaptations so popular and shown specifically at Christmas?
Many will have read these classic novels and can therefore enjoy watching how their favourite text has been transformed for the screen.
The core audience for Christmas TV adaptations is families; shown at the peak family viewing time- mid to late evening. This is when the family, having consumed as much food as possible, can relax by sitting around the TV screen. Because of this, it is important to have a creative work that will have a wide appeal. Many adults will have read these classic novels and can therefore enjoy watching how their favourite text has been transformed for the screen. In light of the adaptation, this may also compel them to re-read the novel with a different perspective. For younger viewers, this may be their first encounter with the literary text and can inspire them to want to read it. Therefore these adaptations are perfect to allow everyone to watch the TV together, whilst also promoting a new readership.
Each year, I look forward to reading the Radio Times and seeing what new literary adaptations will be shown throughout the Christmas period. A few weeks ago, I was delighted to see that my favourite childhood book, Little Women, was being re-made. The novel has already been adapted several times and is loved for its captivating storyline showing the growth of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy) from their teenage years to maturity. Set during the American Civil War, this and other period dramas always have a fascinating appeal. The adversities the girls must overcome and the impact of marriage and death are real-life experiences that speak to a wide audience. For this very same reason there has been an unprecedented number of adaptations of A Christmas Carol. It is the appeal to the whole family which is why classics such as Little Women continue to be adapted and promoted at Christmas.
The Christmas period gives everyone the opportunity to experience these new works, without necessarily having to read the book.
The Miniaturist was televised for alternative reasons. Burton’s text is a contemporary novel, only published in 2014, but with a historical setting of 17th century Amsterdam. Its recent publication date means the novel will not be as well known as Little Women. However, the adaptation, which portrays a household entangled with secrets that are gradually uncovered by the heroine, Nella, is highly appealing to family audiences at Christmas. In The Miniaturist, the beautiful settings are counterpointed by the scenes of violence and murder, making for excellent visuals. The Christmas period also gives everyone the opportunity to experience these new works, without necessarily having to read the book.
Christmas sees a ratings battle between the television channels who try to produce works that they believe will reach the biggest audiences. Rather than taking the high risk of adapting a completely unknown work, such as a new novel or a screenplay, and ‘testing’ it for the first time on a Christmas audience, Little Women, an internationally treasured text, and The Miniaturist, which has received huge acclaim in the form of national awards, were both bankable choices for the BBC. At this time of year, familiarity, joviality and excitement are more highly valued by families than the mystery of the brand new. It is this that makes the idea of a literary adaptation so appealing at Christmas.