There’s a reason why they are called classics, and it’s usually that winning combination of being a gripping story that’s told in elegant prose — be it Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, or slightly later writers such as Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The latest adaptation of the Fitzgerald’s novel may not have wowed the critics, but do judge for yourself — and not because it stars Amitabh Bachchan in a tiny role. Flawed, yes, but Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is an enjoyable film all the same, an over-the-top concoction, which captures the vulgar excesses of the Jazz Age and consumerism. Leonardo DiCaprio — only improving with age — is a great Gatsby. Admittedly, however, Luhrmann’s brew also demonstrates why the classics both provide great material for movies — the plots continue to intrigue; and why they are so hard to film — how do you transform the subtleties of the text into pictures? Some adaptations have done it better than others, and parvathi nayar lists a few

Pride And Prejudice

Keira Knightley is not the logical choice to depict the outspoken heroine of Jane Austen’s much-loved 1813 novel — she’s far too pretty for a start. But British director Joe Wright’s debut feature film has so much energy and entertainment value, it seems a prejudiced attitude to fault Knightley her good looks.

The 2005-film is a well-done comedy of manners and nicely shaded love story. Matthew Macfadyen brings to the character of proud Mr. Darcy, an introverted diffidence that sits well in this exploration of class, wealth, ideals and love. It helps that the supporting characters emerge as well-etched portraits, thanks to some fine acting by Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Rosamund Pike as the reserved, pretty Jane, and Judi Dench as the terrifying Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 book has been translated so often into moving pictures you would imagine there was little left to rediscover. Surprising, then, how effective is the 2011 version, starring Mia Wasikowska as plain-but-passionate Jane, and Michael Fassbender as the forbidding Edward Rochester.

The opening sequence by director Cary Joji Fukunaga is an indication of why the film feels fresh. The chronological narrative has been chopped up, and we begin towards the end of the book, with Jane fleeing Thornfield Hall. But in the drama of that flight — beautifully filmed by Adriano Goldman — is preserved the Gothic theatricality of the story as well as the grounded appeal of its brave heroine.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

To come full circle and back to Luhrmann and DiCaprio, it’s worth revisiting their first venture together at retelling the classics, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. DiCaprio and Claire Danes are memorable as the doomed lovers. But it divided the critics — imagine, the classic tale of warring families redone as gang warfare, set to rock music, in a make-believe place titled Verona Beach. In my books it worked well to show how the Bard’s words, which are retained, can still be infused with contemporary urgencies about love, hate, and all the emotional registers between.

The Lord Of The Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy has been one of the most successful print-to-screen adaptations, commercially and critically. Peter Jackson achieved a remarkable consistency among the three films by shooting all of them together, reportedly at a $ 300-million budget.

Fans were happy because the films lovingly kept to the tone and details of the books; the recreation of Middle Earth, for example, was note-perfect in its combination of New Zealand landscapes and computer magic. Cleverly, the descriptive and exposition-heavy prose was converted into an action-adventure tale, following the golden rule of “showing, not telling” in the movies.

Easy A

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sober tale of guilt and sin, The Scarlet Letter, opens in 1642 with Hester Prynne declared socially outcast because of her extra-marital affair. She is forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ — for adulteress — at all times, stitched onto her dress. The story didn’t work in Roland Joffe’s sexually-charged film starring Demi Moore and Gary Oldman. However, recast by director Will Gluck as the high-school social comedy Easy A — it gets an A.

Emma Stone plays Olive Penderghast, who identifies with Hawthorne’s heroine, being a bit socially isolated herself. Savvy, literary-talking Olive discovers that contemporary society — via social networking — can be every bit as judgemental and scandal-mongering as the Puritan society in which Hawthorne’s novel is set. A casual white lie about her love life gains a life of its own on the grapevine — and she is suddenly branded the school vamp.

The Age Of Innocence

The Age Of Innocence brings alive New York in the1870s, as captured in Edith Wharton’s 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The triangle at the heart of the film features lawyer Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose engagement to the socially well-connected Mary Welland (Winona Ryder) gets complicated when he falls for her socially unacceptable cousin, the free-spirited Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). Beautifully produced and well-acted, Martin Scorsese’s glorious movie generates more smouldering passion in the removal of gloves, than the shedding of clothes in lesser films.