As the holiday season approaches, keep an eye out for our in-depth columns on Leave the World Behind, a Netflix movie version of Rumaan Alam’s Kirkus-starred novel, starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke (premiering on Dec. 8), and American Fiction, a theatrical film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, starring Jeffrey Wright (in wide release on Dec. 22). In the meantime, here are four other book-to-screen adaptations coming in December:
Dec. 1: Eileen (theatrical film premiere)
This film version of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Kirkus-starred 2015 debut novel is directed by Lady Macbeth’s William Oldroyd and stars Jojo Rabbit’s Thomasin McKenzie in the prickly title role. The noirish novel, set in 1964, tells the story of Eileen Dunlop, a bored, depressed, and curmudgeonly 20-something secretary at a boys’ prison in an unnamed New England town. She lives with her difficult, alcoholic father, has no friends, and harbors vague fantasies of escaping her humdrum life and running away to New York City. Her life changes forever after she becomes infatuated with Rebecca Saint John, the new prison psychiatrist, who sets her on a very dark path. In the book, an elderly Eileen recollects the story from decades in the future, frequently hinting at a cataclysmic event that awaits her younger self. Her cutting, captivating voice is the best part of the novel, and, hopefully, the movie will retain it. In any case, McKenzie’s performance as the younger Eileen is sure to be a standout, and Anne Hathaway, as the mysterious Rebecca, and Homecoming’s Shea Whigham, as Eileen’s awful dad, can be counted on to keep things interesting.
Dec. 8: Poor Things (theatrical film premiere)
Alasdair Gray’s postmodern 1993 novel offers a very strange riff on the Frankenstein story, presented as the memoirs of a Victorian-era Scottish doctor named McCandless. He tells of meeting a scientist named Godwin Baxter, who resurrected a drowned pregnant woman—whom he calls Bella—by implanting the brain of her fetus into her skull. Her mind quickly matures, and before long, she marries attorney Duncan Wedderburn, travels abroad, and decides to become a doctor herself. This new film adaptation, directed by The Favourite’s Yorgos Lanthimos, features a powerhouse cast, including Oscar winner Emma Stone as Bella, Emmy winner Mark Ruffalo as Wedderburn, Willem Dafoe as Baxter, and Ramy Youssef as McCandless. The trailer promises truly startling visuals to accompany the bizarre tale.
Dec. 20: Percy Jackson and the Olympians (series premiere, Disney+)
In the Kirkus-starred first installment of Rick Riordan’s bestselling fantasy series for young readers, The Lightning Thief (2005), Perseus “Percy” Jackson is a 12-year-old demigod—his father is the Greek god Poseidon, and his mother is human. After finding out the truth about his heritage, the boy goes on a journey to the Underworld with his young demigod friends to retrieve Zeus’ stolen “Master Bolt.” A film version was released in 2010, which aged up the main characters a bit, among other changes; Riordan openly disliked the script (and that of its sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters). This promising new streaming series, which Riordan co-created, co-wrote, and executive produced, is far more faithful to its source material; for one, the main character is played by a young kid—The Adam Project’s Walker Scobell—and not an actor in his late teens. It’s also notable as the last live-action TV series to feature the great Lance Reddick (The Wire, John Wick), who died in March; fans of the actor are sure to enjoy him tackling the role of Zeus.
Dec. 25: The Boys in the Boat (theatrical film premiere)
Daniel James Brown’s 2013 nonfiction book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, presents a well-researched look at the nine members of a University of Washington rowing team that raced for the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics on Aug. 14, 1936. It focuses on Joe Rantz, who went through an incredibly hard childhood—he raised himself from the age of 15, after being abandoned by his father and stepmother. He eventually became a key member of UW’s crew team, coached by Tom Bolles and Al Ulbrickson. Kirkus’ reviewer called the book “a touching, fairly uncomplicated portrayal of rowing legends,” and this movie version, directed by George Clooney, appears to lean into a familiar sports-movie formula; fans of Rocky-esque tales, take note. Like the book, it centers on Rantz, played by The Last Letter From Your Lover’s Callum Turner. The coaches, meanwhile, are played by two offbeat, interesting actors likely to bring something unexpected to the proceedings: Joel Edgerton, who was riveting in the Prime Video miniseries The Underground Railroad, plays Ulbrickson, and James Wolk, best known as the ingratiating ad exec Bob Benson on Mad Men, portrays Bolles.
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.