Wednesday 8 September 2010


One of the books which snuck into my novella weekend was in fact (gasp!) not a novella, but a screenplay - I read The Hours by David Hare.

I'm a bit of an addict of The Hours. It's how I first encountered Virginia Woolf. I've seen the film maybe eight or nine times; I have two versions of the soundtrack (one normal; one piano version); I have the piano music. Naturally I've read Michael Cunningham's brilliant novel - twice, in fact. So it was only logical that (at least until they invent some sort of The Hours computer game - fall out of a window for ten points! Throw a cake in the bin for 20!) I should read David Hare's screenplay.

Do you read screenplays? We talked about reading plays a while ago, and quite a few of us did, but not that often. I love reading plays, and although I haven't read many recently, I devoured all of A.A. Milne's many plays back in 2002/3. The Hours, on the other hand, is the first screenplay I've ever read.

I suppose there are a few reasons for this. Chief amongst them is that not many are published. With most films there will be a team of writers, I suppose, and it is only the aficionado who'll have a clue who wrote the screenplay. Think through your favourite films... do you know the writer? (I always find this is a useful comparison when wondering how 16th & 17th century playgoers could be indifferent to the fact that they were witnessing Shakespeare's handiwork.) And of course Hare was a 'name' before he put pen to paper for The Hours.

I did enjoy reading it, but if I didn't love The Hours so much, I doubt I would have. It felt more or less like watching the film again. When reading a play, unless I've recently seen a version of it, I am able to have it enacted in my mind based entirely on the text. With a film - which will almost always only have one definitive version - it is that which plays out in my head. Luckily I am always happy to re-watch The Hours, even mentally... Oh, and the printed version comes with a nice little introduction by Hare, written when only a handful of people had had access to the film.

So... do you ever read screenplays, or is it something which wouldn't cross your mind? Is it a step too far away from literature as we understand it? Do you think a screenplay could stand on its own as literature, away from the film? Even if you never even saw the film? I'd love to hear your thoughts...


  1. I have to admit that I don't think reading a screenplay has ever crossed my mind. I've read plenty of plays, but to seek out a screen play... nope, I don't think it's ever occurred to me. Mind you, that's not opposition to the I think it's too far removed from literature...maybe that depends. If it's a screen play from a book, then no. An original screen play written solely to be produced as a movie, then yeah, maybe.

  2. Personally, I think reading a screenplay (and I've quite a few) is an exercise in futility. The writer(s) writes with the knowledge of how integral image is to the whole finished product.

    The few times I've found it interesting has been in the case of unproduced screenplays, which are rare to find.

    And while it is true that few screenplays are published, there are number of online databases where you'd be able to find them (although, sadly, they are often transcribed from sight & sound).

  3. I've never read a screenplay, never even thought to before! Hmm. Sounds like it could be interesting.

  4. I've haven't read any screenplays...yet! But I can comfortably say The Hours is my all time favorite film and my first time experience Woolf as well! I haven't really been the same since. I think I'll start with this screenplay...

  5. I haven't read one and have no motivation at present to do so. I'd be quite interested to see how sets and lighting are "directed" for films though.

  6. I read plays before going to see them but never screenplays, although I'm often tempted to.

    I loved The Hours too. I actually only saw it this year after hearing mixed reactions, but it was a beautiful and touching film.

  7. The only screenplays I've ever read were dialogue-heavy originals, not adaptations from books. I did read Pulp Fiction and Res Dogs, which along with the gore have some great dialogue so were worth reading.

  8. When Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense and Sensibility came out I couldn't get enough so I bought and read the screenplay.

    I'm laughing at a memory, it was 1996, and a friend's father had a laser disc player. The movie came out in that format and Mr Ma made a copy for me to VHS. He was hugely into Chinese action films so his comment about Sense and Sensibility...'that was boring'. He would most likely prefer the Sea Monsters version.

  9. I love reading screenplays actually. I haven't read that many because they're a bit expensive and can be hard to get hold of, but when I can find them, I looooove reading them. It's more fun if I've seen the movie/TV show--I particularly love seeing what the specific subtext of a line was written in to be, because it's often not quite what the actor conveyed to me. I have several books of shooting scripts for TV shows, and screenplays to a few films, and I'd gladly acquire more.

  10. I love The Hours - I was lucky enough to go to the UK premiere. I don't read screenplays and had actually never thought about it - it's not really something that takes my fancy.

  11. Simon, I have never read a screenplay - although I have read plays and quite enjoyed them - although nothing beats seeing them before your eyes.
    Shock confession alert - I have never seen the Hours! Everyone seems to love it so maybe one to add to my amazon wish list!

  12. Since it was the Mockingbird screenplay writer, Horton Foote, who gave my work its start, I feel a great allegiance to him: but I can also honestly say that any of his own plays reward a reading. Try "Valentine's Day" or "1918" from Netflix, and then follow up with the printed play.

  13. Like Darlene, I fell in love with Emma Thompson's screenplay of Sense & Sensibility and pestered my mother into buying it for me. It's interesting to read but it was really her diaries of the filming that made the book for me. I like reading plays, but screenplays don't really do anything for me.

    I must be the only person who still hasn't read or seen The Hours. Need to fix that.

  14. I have never read any plays or screenplays for leisure, only when asked todo so for school. It would be something I would definitely try, although how easy do you think it would be to construct a mental image of the play if you have never seen it in performance? With novels, films are usually a let down after reading the original, but would this be the opposite with a screenplay. Does the film image bring the text to life more.
    I guess that's all dependent on your imagination.

    Makedoandread- you're not the only one who's never seen or read The Hours, seems like I need to get my act together!

  15. I have a copy of The Hours in novel form which I now look forward to since hearing how much you enjoyed the story. I have read several of Woolf's books and hope to appreciate it now. The only screenplay I have is a recently purchased new copy of Hiroshima, Mon Amour by Marguerite Duras (with photos). Thanks for the reminder that they are waiting for me.

  16. Susan - it is unusual, isn't it? I think you're right that an original screenplay would be rather different from an adaptation. And this one had no directorial instructions really... so more like a play than I imagine it would have been in the hands of the actors.

    Pen Name - I think you might be right - I enjoyed this because I know the film really well, but it was just like re-watching the film.

    Emily Jane - not many around, but always interesting to try something new!

    Daniel - snap! It is a good place to start. I feel, though I enjoyed it, it might be the place I stop as well...!

    Peter - sadly that sort of info wasn't in this screenplay... but I love reading stage directions in plays, especially AA Milne's because he always puts as much wittiness into the stage directions as into the rest of the play.

    Sakura - I never get bored with The Hours, I have seen it so many times - glad you finally had time to watch :)

    Annabel - you're braver than I am! I don't think I could cope with either of those films...

    Darlene - oh dear, oh dear, no helping some people! I didn't realise they'd published the screenplay of S&S. Maybe I won't stop with The Hours after all...

    Jenny - how nice to have a screenplay enthusiast! You should give me some recommendations...

    Naomi - you can't just write that and stop! Why were you at the premiere?! What was it like?! Did you meet anyone famous?!!

    Hannah - shocking indeed! You must, you very much must! I love it, especially the opening sequences, which were done so well.

    Shelley - I have never heard of him, another one to seek out, thanks (and what a fabulous name he has!)

    Kate - not quite the only one (c.f. Hannah in the comments above you!) - I urge you to read Mrs. Dalloway (if you haven't, but I think you have? In which case, re-read), then The Hours, then watch The Hours - it would be a brilliant experience!

    Amy - yes, watch The Hours, please! I do wonder what it would be like to read a screenplay without having seen the film, but I suppose it's difficult to have the interest without enjoying the film first? Especially given the expense of screenplays.

    Sandra - that's one of the joys of reading blogs, isn't it - all the reminders of goodies already waiting on our shelves :)


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