Movie Adaptations of John Fowles Novels
Four of John Fowles' novels have been turned into films:
The Collector, The Magus, The French
Lieutenant's Woman and The Ebony Tower. Although
some of the movie adaptations are decidedly more successful
than others, they are all of interest to the true Fowles devotee.
Of course, none compare to the experience of reading the novels
The following is a look at the movies. We currently have
DVD and/or VHS copies of three of them available for sale. Click
here for details.
Pictures, 1965). Starring Samantha Eggar and Terence Stamp.
Directed by William Wyler, from a screenplay by Stanley Mann
and John Kohn (with an uncredited assist from Fowles).
Outstanding performances by the leads (Eggar was nominated
for a Best Actress Oscar) propel the cinematic treatment of
Fowles' first novel. As the butterfly collector who decides
that collecting a beautiful college student would be even
more fun, Stamp manages to both repel and evoke sympathy.
An interesting film which does a nice job of capturing the
subtle and simmering horror of the book.
The Collector is available on
and is occasionally shown on late-night television and cable
movie channels. To purchase a copy of The Collector
on DVD or VHS, go to the John Fowles First Editions
& More page and click on "movie adaptations."
Magus (20th Century Fox, 1968). Starring Michael Caine,
Anthony Quinn and Candice Bergen. Directed by Guy Green, from
a screenplay by Fowles.
Fowles has called the film adaptation of his second novel
"a disaster all the way down the line" and Woody
Allen is quoted as saying that if he had his life to live
over again, he would want everything exactly the same with
the exception of seeing the film version of The Magus.
Even Michael Caine, who played the role of Nicholas, once
said that the worst movie he had ever been in was The
Magus because "nobody could figure out what it was
Probably the people who will most find it worth watching
are those of us who have read and loved the book. For one
thing, that's the only chance of understanding the movie (trying
to compress Fowles' multi-layered 600-page novel into 118
minutes was obviously a huge mistake). And if you've already
read the book eight times--switching back and forth between
the original and revised versions--this at least gives you
something new to sink your teeth into (think of it as a tiny,
slightly stale after-dinner mint following an incredible 12-course
feast). Note: Fowles himself appears briefly as a sailor in
the opening credits.
A great movie is waiting to be made of The Magus
(perhaps using the title Fowles first considered for the book,
The Godgame), but it will need to be a Hollywood
miniseries or British television production that runs at least
six hours. How about this for casting: Ben Kingsley as Conchis,
Jude Law as Nicholas, Charlize Theron as Julie and Jennifer
Connelly as Alison. We'll have our people call Fowles' people.
The Magus was
released in 2006 on DVD in the
U.S.--it was previously available only in poor quality
videotape formats in the UK. Unfortunately the DVD is
now out of print, but we do have new Region 1 copies for
here for details.
French Lieutenant's Woman (United Artists, 1981). Starring
Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Directed by Karel Reisz, from
a screenplay by Harold Pinter.
Beautiful cinematography and wonderful acting characterize
this adaptation of Fowles' third novel--the result was five
Academy Award nominations (including Best Actress for Streep).
The movie mirrors the book's multiple points of view by having
Streep and Irons shift back and forth between the 19th Century
Sarah and Charles and the 20th century actors who are playing
them. This is the first adaptation of his work that Fowles
was pleased with, calling it "a brilliant metaphor"
for the book.
The French Lieutenant's Woman
is rarely shown on television, at least in the U.S.
(probably not enough explosions). However, it is available
on DVD. In addition, a new blu-ray edition from the
Criterion Collection was released in August 2015--click here
Ebony Tower (Granada Television, 1984). Starring Laurence
Olivier, Roger Rees and Greta Scacchi. Directed by Robert
Knights from a screenplay by John Mortimer.
This is a terrific adaptation--by British television--of
Fowles' short novel, with Olivier magnificent as the cantankerous
painter Breasley. His philosophical battle with the young
painter Williams (Rees) and the presence of two beautiful
young women echo scenes from an earlier Fowles novel; fortunately
this is a far more successful movie adaptation (where was
Olivier when The Magus was being filmed?).
The Ebony Tower is
available on DVD only in a recently-released Laurence
Olivier collection entitled Laurence Olivier Presents.