Robert Jackman

8 films that began as plays

8 films that began as plays
Image: Frost/Nixon (2008), Imagine Ent/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock
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Back in the golden age of Hollywood, American's theatres provided a steady supply of would-be hits ripe for adaptation. These days, fewer plays make it to the silver screen but those that do usually prove their worth. Here are eight recent picks well worth watching: 

Una (2016), Amazon - to rent 

Blackbird, a jet-black thriller about a tense reunion between a twenty-something woman and the man who groomed her as a teenager, caused a storm at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 before enjoying sell-out runs in the West End and on Broadway. Despite the name-change, Benedict Andrews’ Una is an extremely faithful adaptation of the original, perfectly capturing its darkness, ambiguity and underlying menace. Rooney Mara and Aussie-export Ben Mendelsohn take on the leading roles, with Riz Ahmed and The Crown’s Tobias Menzies completing the cast.

One Night in Miami (2020), Amazon Prime - from 15 January 

Kemp Powers’ 2013 play One Night in Miami (which bagged excellent reviews at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2016) explores a fateful meeting between Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali and his controversial mentor Malcolm X that took place just after Clay’s first world heavyweight title win. While the play aptly depicts a pivotal moment in American sporting history (albeit not the fight itself) the real story here is the ideological struggles that defined the latter Civil Rights era, and the malevolent influence of the cult-like Nation of Islam. A hotly-anticipated film adaptation lands on Amazon Prime next week. 

Frost Nixon (2008), Amazon - to rent 

2006 was a big year for Peter Morgan: the acclaimed screenwriter now known primarily as the brains behind Netflix’s globe-conquering The Crown. Not only did he release his breakthrough cinematic triumph The Queen, he also brought us his first West End play: a captivating take on the televised showdown between ambitious interviewer David Frost and tarnished former president Richard Nixon. Ron Howard directs the equally-excellent film adaptation, which scooped five Oscar nominations in 2009.

Carnage (2011), Amazon - to rent 

French playwright Yasmina Reza’s relationship psychodrama God of Carnage (originally Le Dieu du carnage) had audiences veering between gasping and roaring with laughter when it premiered in the West End in 2008. Despite its stellar cast (Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz step into the shoes of the warring couples), this 2011 film adaptation enjoyed a slightly more muted response - perhaps due to the ongoing controversy surrounding its director, Roman Polanski. Whatever you might think of the man himself, Carnage is still an excellent - and utterly cringe-inducing - watch. 

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Amazon - to rent 

David Mamet’s machismo fest about an office of profanity-spouting, uber-competitive salesmen bagged the Pulitzer for best drama in 1984, elevating its creator from a rising star into a theatrical institution. With Mamet on screen-writing duties, this slick film adaptation - which features a dream team cast of Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey - eventually became better known than its stage predecessor. So much so that when the play returned to the West End in 2017, the promo posters quoted lines that only appeared in the film. 

Closer (2004), Amazon - to rent 

Nearly 25 years since its West End debut, Patrick Marber’s best-known play has been translated into more than 30 languages, earning itself a spot in the modern theatrical canon. Though Mike Nichols’ cinematic adaptation loses some of the ambiguity and claustrophobia of the stage-play, it does a decent enough job of bringing Marber’s jaded lovers to life. Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen (the latter of whom also appeared in the National Theatre premiere - albeit in the opposite role) all feature. But the real star here is the early 2000s London setting - which, even without Covid, already looks like another world. 

Boys in the Band (2020), Netflix - available now 

Mart Crowley’s 1968 off-Broadway play became famous for its unsanitised portrayal of the lives of gay men, eventually spawning a film adaptation (directed by The Exorcist’s William Friedkin) three years later. Forty years on and history repeated itself when a 2018 Broadway revival (this time with an all-gay cast headed up by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons) ended up being adapated by Netflix. To modern eyes, the film’s opening scenes (in which the cocktail-sipping friends trade witty barbs) might seem commonplace. Nevertheless, it’s worth staying put, as the second half turns into something much more novel and powerful. 

Rabbit Hole (2010), Amazon - to rent

Already one of the most prolific and acclaimed actresses of her generation, Nicole Kidman added another string to her bow in 2010 when she produced her first film - an adaptation of a Pulitzer-winning play from some three years earlier. As well as heading up the project, Kidman also stars as Becca, a mother who begins meeting with the teenage driver who accidentally ran over her young son. The play’s writer, David Lindsay-Abaire, has sadly gone a bit quiet of late. His 2011 follow-up play, Good People, was among the best plays I saw in the West End that year.