Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Slap: a Model of Screen Adaptation

The Slap is the story of a bratty child running amok at a suburban barbecue. 

A man who is not the child’s father gives him a slap — some would consider it a very well-deserved slap.

But as a result, all hell breaks loose…

The Slap is a novel by Christos Tsiolkas. It was adapted into an eight part television drama with episodes written by Cate Shortland (who also wrote and directed the excellent film Somersault), Kris Mrksa, Brendan Cowell, Alice Bell and Emily Ballou.

It’s a compelling story. As a result of the incident the police are called in, and a supposedly tightly-knit group of friends begins to unravel…

Their relationships gradually rip apart along the fault lines of race, class, and sex.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of the novel and a DVD of the television serial at the same time, so I could do a close comparison of them. It’s been both fun and fascinating.

Because The Slap is a classic example of a screen adaptation in which substantial, even radical, changes are made to the source material — while remaining crucially true to the spirit of it.

Just two examples.

In the book the babysitter Connie looks at her beautiful party dress and fantasises about dropping in on Hector, the older man she’s been having an affair with, and showing it off to him. This remains a fleeting fantasy in the novel but in the television version she does drop in on Hector and he coldly rejects her — providing a crucial motivation for her later lie about him raping her. A lie which, in the book, remains oddly under-motivated.

And in the book Rosie, mother of the slapped child, merely imagines getting up on the witness stand in court and having her say. In the TV episode, she actually does go up on the stand, with catastrophic consequences.

The television version of The Slap is full of these clever expansions and transformations. It’s an exemplar of adapting prose to the screen.

If I was teaching scriptwriting, I’d use The Slap as a model to aspire to.

It’s also full of dodgy sex scenes, which would keep the students amused.

(Image credits: The DVD cover of The Slap is from Hey Guys.  The running feet book cover is from Book World. The shouting child's face cover is from Smart Artists which has an interesting article about Tsiolkas. The Penguin book cover is from the Penguin site.)

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