How a novel can be transferred to screen

An examination of "Brighton Rock" by Graham Greene and its movie adaptation

Term Paper, 2019

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction to movie adaptations

2 Brian McFarlane´s theory of adaptation – how a novel can be transferred to screen

3 Theoretical approach in practice – The Boulting´s and Greene - “Brighton Rock”

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction to movie adaptations

“(…) (T)hey want to find in the film what they valued in the literary work, without asking whether this is the sort of thing film can do.” (McFarlane, It wasn’t like that in the book, p. 6)

Film adaptations have always been a point of criticism for those who previously read the novel. They feel prompted to comment on the work directors, producers and the cast have done. The majority of people do not like the fact that something new is presented. They only want to determine in how far their own conception of the novel has been transposed (cf. McFarlane, It wasn’t like that in the Book, p.6). This paper has the purpose to find out about the general topic of adaptation, it will name reasons why certain sections of the novel Brighton Rock have been altered in favor of the movie adaptation and it will show the effects created by decisions the screenwriter of the movie and the novel´s author, Graham Greene himself has made.

As McFarlane pointed out in the introductory statement, many people want the film to be like literature because of the cultural hierarchy in our society. A book is valued more than a movie, because many serious -minded people want movies to offer more elevated themes (McFarlane, It wasn’t like that in the book, p.4). The majority of people want the film to be more like literature, because movie has not achieved as high as literature (McFarlane, It wasn’t like that in the book, p.5). This is why many people dislike movie adaptations. In the 1947 adaptation of “Brighton Rock”, the Boulting brothers – director John Boulting and producer Roy Boulting – have worked together with Graham Greene which could have had the benefit that Greene was a well-known author by this time after already having published best-selling novels. With the novels´ original author and the movies´ screenwriter Graham Greene being an essential part, the Boulting´s have seemingly tried to work against the general conception of movies in society and it was Greene´s task to decide which parts of the plot could be transferred and which parts would differ from the original novel. From a perspective of a more common audience though, a movie could be easier to understand compared to a novel, because neither have people to interpret what they see caused by a lack of skills to evaluate the movie in a proper manner, nor has the majority read the novel prior to watching the movie. Film has since become narrative entertainment (McFarlane, Novel to Film, p.6). Adapting literary works to film is a creative undertaking, but the task requires a kind of selective interpretation, along with the ability to recreate and sustain an established mood (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p. 7). When adapting the novel to film, the major task for screenwriters such as Greene is how to transfer “cardinal functions”, or “hinge-points of narrative” (according to Roland Barthes) can be transferred from text (novel) to tonal and pictorial (film) (cf. McFarlane, it wasn’t like that in the book, p. 7). In other words, a text is arranged using different narrative functions that might be as useful in the movie as they are in the text. By using certain strategies, narrative functions can be successfully transferred from a novel to a movie. This is meant by the term “adaptation proper” (McFarlane, It wasn’t like that in the book, p.7). By using this term, McFarlane criticizes the failure to distinguish between what is reasonably transferable and something what requires the invoking of the process and mentions, for example, being bold as a useful adaptation strategy (see ibid). By using both, adaptation proper as well as transfer in “Brighton Rock”, I am going to examine in how far the film is different from the novel. Furthermore, with the help of a summary, a story/plot- as well as character analysis, I will show that that certain things can be transferred and other things have to be altered/ adapted during the process of adaptation.

2 Brian McFarlane´s theory of adaptation – how a novel can be transferred to screen

Regarding a films´ script Balázs mentions that the writer adapting the play may use the existing work of art merely as raw material, regard it from a specific angle of his own art form as it were raw reality, and pay no attention to the form once already given to the material (Balász, Theory of Film, p.263). Carrying on, there are two different strategies that can be utilized by the producers and writers in order to change a novel into a film. McFarlane distinguishes between transfer in which certain elements can directly be transferred (without interpretation) in order to keep the basic structure, although the course of events might differ from the original text (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p.23). Other parts of the novel need to be adapted followed by additional interpretation or deconstruction of the original text (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p. 11) so the course of events within the novel will make further sense, although the basic structure will be most likely broken up (cf. ibid, p.26). When adapting novel to film the producer and screenwriter will have sufficient scope of action using this strategy. There are different narrative functions in literary text as well as on screen. Narratives in general are defined as a series of events including for example a set of characters, which influence and are influenced by the course of events; those can appear in both literary and filmic texts (McFarlane, Novel to Film, p.12f.). Narrative functions are distinguished in “distributional functions”, so called “functions proper” that refer to actions and events as well as “integrational functions”, so called “indices”, which is necessary to the meaning of the story (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p. 13). McFarlane uses Barthes who further divides functions proper in “cardinal functions”, the switches within the novel and “catalyzing functions” that are directly transferable from one medium to the other (ibid, p.13f.).

In contrast to the strategy of transferring McFarlane mentions adaptation proper as second strategy which is an important classification system when transposing novel into film. He subdivides adaptation proper in two signifying systems: a verbal system in novels and a rather visual or mixed system of visual, aural and verbal in movies and calls those characteristic differences the “novel´s linearity” and the “film´s spatiality”. These terms refer to the fact that for example verbal sign-systems can provide the reader/viewer with the same information (for example in headlines or newspaper articles) that functions in different ways (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p.27). In contrast to novels, film is not dependent on vocabulary and as a result lacks a structuring syntax; it rather uses certain cinematic codes such as: language codes (accents or tones of voice), visual codes, cultural codes or non-linguistic sound codes (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p.28f.) Regarding the adaptation, the aforementioned non-linguistic sound codes might be most important for the movie itself because through songs and noises a certain mood is created and feelings can be expressed. Conclusively, when adapting novel to film McFarlane notices major differences between the two systems: one of which working verbally and the other working through the interaction of the above mentioned codes (1); the fact that film cannot represent action in the past as novels do, which creates the a tense difficulty (2) and the film´s spatial orientation which gives it a physical presence in comparison with the novel´s linearity (3) (cf. McFarlane, Novel to Film, p.29). Thus, one of the major differences to make in general is regarding a story and plot distinction: story is simply the basic succession of events, whereas plot represents the distinctive way in which the story for example is made strange (cf. McFarlane, p. 23). One example would be how different character traits or their physical appearance is described in the novel compared to how it is shown in the film. Clearly, certain functions of narrating prose, such as establishing setting and physical appearance of characters, can be achieved through the film´s mise-en-scène (McFarlane, Novel to Film, p. 17) that describes the interaction of setting and/or the certain film design for example the scenery on-stage, the set or lightning (cf. Bordwell & Thompson, Film Art, Chapter 6). An older definition says that the phrase can be understood as the creation of the dramatic space and that the adapter can compose the world which the novel suggests, it´s climate, it´s ambiance and record it with camera (cf. Mitry, Remarks on the Problem of Cinematic Adaptation, p.5). When adapting the novel, the key-task for the producer as well as the writer is to decide which elements have to be transposed and how those have to be transposed in order to create tension through certain effects that arouse or provoke the viewers. That implies that the film-maker have to use both transfer and also adaptation proper.

3 Theoretical approach in practice – The Boulting´s and Greene - “Brighton Rock”

The theory has shown that there are many possible ways for film makers to adapt a novel to a film. There are striking differences between novel and film regarding main events that affect the whole story. Before describing these major differences it is worth mentioning that US crime movies from the 1940s as well as the 1950s were called by the cinematic term of “Film Noir”. In general, the term is affiliated with the so called “hardboiled” detectives who bear witness to a crime such as murder. By the time the book was adapted to a genre-specific film, almost every time the opener in hardboiled detective films was a murder right at the beginning. This creates the immediate effect for the movie that tension is created from the first scene because the viewer wants to know who committed the murder and all about the circumstances in which the murder took place. The producers of movies in the 40s and 50s frequently decided to open up a film with a murder in order to create black mood and a certain atmosphere in which the viewer is put in the situation right away. In order to determine in how far the adaptation is different from the novel, a short summary of the novel as well as the adaptation that provide an overview on the different sequences each is needed.


Charles Hale also known as Kolly Kibber or Fred Hale comes to Brighton in order to promote the newspaper he is working for with Kolly Kibber cards that he distributes in different locations across town. A gang he was previously involved in is after him because of a newspaper story about the gang. While drinking in a pub me meets a woman called Ida Arnold and stays with her in order to avoid confrontation with the gang members. After Ida went to a women´s bathroom, she discovers Hale gone. Mobsters Cubbit, Dallow and Spicer as well as the gang leader, 17- year- old Pinkie Brown meet in a café – the mobsters are telling Pinkie that Hale has been killed and that the remaining Kolly Kibber cards have been allocated all over the town. Spicer commits a fateful mistake and misplaces one of the cards under a tablecloth. Pinkie is furious about the situation and wants to correct the mistake – he meets Rose who claims to have found the card at the restaurant.

A few days later, Ida visits a pub, reads the newspaper and learns that Hale is dead. She is very suspicious because of the death note Hale left behind does not seem reasonable which leads her to investigate. Meanwhile Pinkie pays attention to Rose so she will not contact the police. Later on Pinkie visits leading mobster Colleoni who claims to be in control of the city and advises Pinkie to stay out of his business. Ida starts to investigate by contacting a policeman as well as Rose and asks them questions regarding Hale´s dead. Spicer becomes doubtful because he was against killing Hale and drinks much alcohol. As a result, Pinkie assumes Spicer is going to tell the police. While at a race, Pinkie and Spicer are ambushed by Colleoni but both survive the attack. Pinkie decides to finish Spicer off himself and throws him down the stairs (“These stairs have needed mending a long while”, p. 132). Rose tells Pinkie about Ida´s visit but stays loyal as she doesn’t mention anything. Meanwhile a fight in the gang erupts and the other members learn that Pinkie killed Spicer – Cubbit leaves the gang, gets drunk in the hotel and talks to Ida. In order to cover up the murders, Pinkie marries Rose and records his voice as a gift for her – he delivers a message in which he runs Rose down because he feels trapped. In addition, he gets paranoid and believes that Rose and Cubbitt will tell the police everything about the murders. He tries to convince Rose to go to Pacehaven with him and that a double suicide was the only solution. He wants to set a trap with the result of Rose being killed and him being free. Pinkie´s crony Dallow who has been loyal the entire time, tells Ida that something is wrong and shows up at Pacehaven with a policeman. Pinkie accidently spills vitrol over him and jumps off a cliff. Ida solved the crime and prevented Rose from her death. At the end of the novel, Rose confesses and she can´t wait to hear Pinkie´s voice recording, from whom she believes that he loved her all the time.


As mentioned above, the genre “Film Noir” is assigned to the movie “Brighton Rock” from 1947. Compared to other films from the same genre, the screen adaptation of Brighton Rock also starts with a murder at the beginning. A dead man´s body lying in a gravel pit with the face being covered by a newspaper is shown in the first scene. The newspaper headline reads “Brighton Gangster’s Body Found”. Underneath the headline, the preview text gives the information that a 45 year old man, William Kite, a gang leader has been killed because he has allegedly given information to a newspaper reporter named Fred Hale. The following scene shows that the “Kolley Kibber” (also known as Charles/Fred Hale) comes to Brighton bringing his newspaper stand. Spicer, a mobster, reads the newspaper and notices that Hale is in town. He tells the mob that the “Kolley Kibber” in is Brighton and shows the newspaper article to gang leader Pinkie. The gang, Spicer, Pinkie, Dallow and Cubbitt discuss and find out that the man is Fred who wrote an article about the gang after receiving insider information from Kite. The mob visits Hale at a local pub and start a conversation with him. Pinkie snaps but Hale gets away without being harmed and gets to know Ida Arnold at the bar. After talking to her shortly, he leaves the bar and watches out if anyone is following him and rushes through Brighton. He is bothered by the mob again but meets Ida and sticks to her side to avoid further confrontation. They make plans for the day but Ida tells him she has to go to the ladies bathroom and that Hale has to wait just for a few minutes for her to be back. While she is gone, Hale wants to kill time with a rollercoaster ride and just seconds before the ride is about to start, Pinkie takes the seat next to Hale. After the ride had started Pinkie pushes him off the rollercoaster into the sea. After the murder has been committed Pinkie goes to the restaurant to rearrange the Kolley Kibber card Spicer misplaced underneath a tablecloth. While Pinkie talks to waitress Rose, some men load Hale´s dead body on a car trunk. The following day, Ida reads a newspaper article entitled “Inquest on “Kolley Kibber” – “Daily Messenger” Man Found Drowned – Fred Hale left Cards all along his Route” and immediately thinks that the murder must have happened on purpose and suspects a crime. Later that day, Pinkie and Rose meet at the pier and have a talk in which Pinkie fills Rose with anxiety. While the mob tries to collect protection money they soon learn that the victim has already paid the money to Brighton underground leader Colleoni whom Pinkie visits in the Cosmopolitan hotel. At the same time, Ida goes to the restaurant to meet Rose and asks her questions regarding the day Hale was a customer and distributed his cards. Following their conversation, Rose tries to call Pinkie to tell him about the fact that she was questioned by Ida but Spicer answers the telephone and notices he might be in trouble because he witnessed the murder of Hale. After leaving the Cosmopolitan, Pinkie is caught by the police and is send to the police station to talk to the inspector. As Pinkie leaves the police station, Rose enters and also talks to the inspector. She makes clear that she doubts Hale´s dead. Ida sees Rose and Pinkie together and her doubts regarding the case strengthen. Pinkie and Rose are at the pier when they stumble upon a photo of Spicer on the day Hale has been killed. Pinkie wants to talk to Spicer and finds him sleep drunk. He now thinks that Spicer wouldn’t be able to stand the pressure, drinks and ultimately tells the police. He sets up Colleoni to kill Spicer but when Pinkie and Spicer go to the races on the following day, both are getting attacked. Pinkie survives the attack and returns home believing that Spicer is dead. He soon learns that Spicer could escape from Colleoni´s men and is still alive so Pinkie meets his lawyer Mr. Prewitt and is furious about the fact that Spicer is still alive. He wants to finish him off himself and pushes him over the handrail – Mr. Prewitt and Dallow are the only witnesses. Later on, Pinkie and Rose, alongside Dallow, and Mr. Prewitt meet at the registrar’s office and get married because a married woman can´t testify against her husband. Following the marriage, Pinkie records a voice message, a hateful rant in which he runs Rose down. He tries to convince Rose that a double suicide was the only solution after Ida had put more pressure on him after talking to Pinkies closest persons, Mr. Prewitt, who is drunk and Rose. Pinkie notices that Ida has tried to receive information from Rose and Pinkie convinces her to go to Pacehaven with him. Meanwhile Dallow is questioned by Ida and the police inspector and reveals some information. At Pacehaven, Pinkie hands Rose a gun, they share a last kiss but the others suddenly appear. Rose is frightened which makes her drop the gun in the water. Pinkie takes a hit from Dallow and now knows he can´t defend himself any longer and is about to be caught. So he jumps off the balustrades and dies. The last scene shows Rose who listens to the voice recording. The records hang repeats “I love you” and lets Rose believe these are Pinkies last words to her.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


How a novel can be transferred to screen
An examination of "Brighton Rock" by Graham Greene and its movie adaptation
University of Kassel
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
brighton, rock, graham, greene
Quote paper
Clemens Dölle (Author), 2019, How a novel can be transferred to screen, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: How a novel can be transferred to screen

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free