5 Great TV Shows Based on Books

Bookshelf Next to Television
Category: Reading

With the interminable wait for the last series of Game of Thrones now upon us, a growing uncertainty begins to take hold as we wonder what on earth we're going to watch for the next year.

Luckily, we’re spoiled for choice: television has undergone somewhat of a rebirth of late, with a litany of intelligent and diverse programmes available for audiences to binge on as they see fit. Television often offers a far more satisfying platform for book adaptations, as directors can treat their source material with the care and attention that films sometimes cannot.

So we have come up with a list of great TV shows – old and new – that were based on equally great books. Indulge in both, either or none!

Characters from Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited,
based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh

Often cited as one of the first great British TV series, Brideshead Revisited tells the story of Charles Ryder, an ex-army captain and painter who looks back on his life and his relationship with the Flyte family and their grand residence of Brideshead. Perhaps the most sentimental of his works, Waugh captures the tension between an aristocratic family and a society increasingly unconcerned and ungoverned by traditional notions of class. On the screen, Jeremy Irons plays Ryder with a great supporting performance from Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte. The series is split into 11 parts and faithfully reimagines the world Waugh presented in the book. Beautifully shot in a variety of stunning locations, the series has lost none of its impact since its release in 1981. 


Homicide: Life on the Streets, based on Homicide by David Simon

The precursor to the iconic and critically praised The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets details author David Simon's experiences working alongside the Baltimore police department. Witnessing first-hand the drug culture and violence that arises as a result of it, Simon highlights the difficulties facing those people charged with solving crime. The TV show itself is often overlooked in favour of the far more well-known The Wire, but it features the same strong writing, acting and direction that made its big brother so popular with audiences.



The Leftovers Book Cover

The Leftovers, based on the novel by Tom Perotta

Despite its frustratingly inexplicable circumstances (6% of the world’s population vanish, leaving the rest of the world to deal with their departure) The Leftovers is a thoughtful and superbly acted (I can’t stress enough how well acted it is) drama, with richly written characters. Often philosophical in tone and full of biblical allusions, the series is ultimately about individuals and their inability to sustain personal relationships. Perotta himself was heavily involved in the production of the series, offering the narrative arc of his book within the first series and expanding the story in its second and third series.


Sherlock, based on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved private investigator has inspired countless film and television adaptions over the years, but Mark Gatiss's and Steven Moffat's recent interpretation has garnered much praise from viewers and critics alike. With strong central performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the series takes inspiration from Conan Doyle’s works and reimagines them in a modern setting. The result is a masterful blend of innovation and tradition that really makes revisiting Conan Doyle’s classic tales all the more enjoyable.

The Handmaid's Tale Book Cover


The Handmaid's Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood

A fairly recent addition to TV to book adaption list, The Handmaid’s Tale has been widely praised since its release and perfectly captures Atwood's eerie and unsettling dystopian world. With a great performance from Mad Men star, Elizabeth Moss, the series will be a great introduction to those who are (like me) unfamiliar with Atwood’s novel, as well as a faithful adaptation for devoted fans.


Looking for more excellent adaptations? Check out our lists of books that translated splendidly to the screen.


Brideshead Revisited image by msrivergirl, via Flickr. Distributed under Creative Commons 2.0 Licence.

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