MY FAVOURITE FILMS
(and the books that inspired them)
It’s true that you should never judge a book by its movie – they are both very different animals.
But film adaptations can get away with things that books can’t – and I like that.
So, here I share some of the movies that rocked my world and where the ideas behind them originally stemmed from.
A star studded film about a tunnelled escape from a German prisoner of war camp during World War II, it shows that even in the most awful of circumstances, people can still have hope; they can still have drive. And most of all there is still humour - they don’t lose their personality.
The movie is based on Paul Brickhill's 1950 non-fiction account of the same name. Brickhill had been a prisoner at Stalag Luft III during World War II. The characters are based on real people, and in some cases are composites of several men, but with changes made to the movie version to increase the story’s drama, appeal and target market.
Critics say that the movie reinforced the dominance of lead actor, Steve McQueen as a superstar, but many viewers don't know that when McQueen served in the US Marines after World War II, he allegedly became an actual action hero - credited for saving fellow Marines' lives during an Arctic exercise.
In real life, all of the attempted escapes from the prisoner of war camp took place on foot. The film's famous motorbike escape sequence was allegedly requested by McQueen, a keen motorcyclist, who did much of the stunt riding himself.
Despite being an old film, it’s as good today as the day it was made, and that’s incredible - the true test of a good story. And I know the entire script off by heart because I’ve watched it so many times!
The story of a man trapped in an empty city, all alone, after a virus kills virtually every human on earth or turns them into a flesh eating killer. The idea of there being no rules, no laws, no structure, no nothing - interests me a lot. It provides a background where you could start again; where humankind could do away with all wrongs of the world, and reinvent itself. But if there are no people to reinvent it, what's the point? If you are alone, is there any point in being alive?
Warner Brothers owned the rights for 37 years before it became a movie
This film also gives hope to all those novelists out there. The movie was developed from Richard Matheson’s 1954 cult novel of the same name, which was panned by many critics on its original release, but which in more recent years has been awarded posthumous titles for its services to horror and sci-fi. Incredibly, Warner Brothers owned the rights to it for 37 years before they made the film!
A gangster movie that features a rather unlikeable protagonist doing rather unsavory things. It’s a film about organised crime, but seen from the inside out - and widely regarded as one of the crime classics. Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill as the most likeable bad guy of them all.
Adapted from the 1986 non-fiction book, Wiseguy, Life in a Mafia Family, written by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, it chronicles the story of a Mafia mobster turned informant. Hill tries to do the right thing after slowly realising that he’ll end up dead or in prison for the rest of his life.
Aaron Sorkin, the writer behind A Few Good Men, took his inspiration from phone conversations with his sister who was actually going to Guantanamo Bay to defend a group of Marines who came close to killing another in a hazing ordered by a superior officer.
The fact-fiction blend is in many ways similar to my own books. I love that Sorkin allegedly wrote much of the story on cocktail napkins while bartending on Broadway. He would type his notes up on his computer when he got home, and this reminds me of how I work with my own writing. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter when – just get it down.
Jack Nicholson's character, Colonel Jessup, isn’t a very nice man, yet this has to be one of his finest ever performances, with the immortal line: ‘You can’t handle the truth!’.
As he says to the prosecution, ‘You have that luxury of not knowing what I know. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.’
However much you loathe him, he is surely the same man we would want ‘standing on that wall with a gun’, protecting us - isn’t he? How many of us are willing to admit that we need Jack Nicholson's type of character in the real world, defending us?
When people moan that they don’t like Jake’s borderline methods in my books, because he has to think like a bad guy to catch the bad guys – I often think of Jack Nicholson playing Colonel Jessup. Many people can't actually handle the truth, and some don't even want to know what the truth is…
Directed by Steven Spielberg, this historical political thriller follows a squad of assassins as they track down and kill alleged members of the group Black September, which had previously kidnapped and murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
The film is based on the book Vengeance by Canadian writer, George Jonas. Back in 1981, he was approached by Collins Canada about meeting with a man called Juval Aviv, who said he was a former Mossad officer. Aviv claimed to have led Operation Wrath of God, the operation to assassinate the Palestinian militants who carried out the 1972 Munich massacre. Although George Jonas says he verified Juval Aviv’s story as much as possible, critics, including some members of the Israeli intelligence community, have called into question the story’s validity.
I remember going to watch this film while I was investigating the 7/7 bombings. Living away from home up in a hotel in Leeds, I’d gone to see the film alone, which in the end turned out to be a good thing, as the movie really upset me. I cried in the cinema at the end of it.
The film, starring Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, was a critical success, and was named in the top twenty best films of the 21st Century so far, by the New York Times. Yet, despite all the awards, it remains one of Spielberg’s lowest grossing movies of all time.
Munich paints the Israeli avengers as similar to those that they are killing. They start off with noble intentions and doing the right thing, but then end up turning into something similar to those that they are hunting. It depicts a pointless cycle of violence with no end, where each side wants to avenge the wrongs of the other.
Sat in that cinema in Leeds, back in 2007, it reminded me in some ways of what I was becoming. That I was losing sight of right and wrong in some of what I was doing - and that it didn’t matter how much of myself that I destroyed, I was unlikely to stop it happening again.
Munich stays with me in other ways too - again it's a fact-fiction blend that is cleverly used to tell a story from the past. One that should never be forgotten.
Enjoy stories based on real events? Take a look at David Videcette's books.
As a former Scotland Yard detective, David Videcette has worked on a wealth of infamous cases, including the 7/7 London bombings. He is the author of bestselling crime thrillers The Theseus Paradox and The Detriment, based on real events. When he’s not writing books, David commentates for the news media on crime, policing and terrorism.