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‘The Girl on the Train’ Film Review: “Paula Hawkins is a sell out”

When watching The Girl on the Train, I had no contextual knowledge regarding the film rights of the production. I started to watch the film with an open mind, but began to notice aspects of the film that threw me. Whilst observing the setting of the film, it becomes apparent that the London setting known of the book has been replaced by an American location. On paying closer attention, I notice that Emily Blunt (as amazing as she is) is the only British actor cast in the motion picture. Considering the book was written by a British author and is meant to take place in London, I found this strange. Whilst it is true that a book being set in a particular country does not mean to say all (or any) of its characters need to be from there, there is no mention to say the characters are from anywhere else (that I can recall). The capability of the actors and production team cannot be doubted, but the film remaining true to the setting and characters of the novel is a different matter. I guess they would call it ‘creative freedom’.

On leaving the cinema I thought: Paula Hawkins is a sell out. The British author saw her novel storm to success in 2015, debuting at number one on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers List that year, and wanted more success and money. With the psychological thriller receiving such acclamation, expectations and demands were high for the film adaptation and money talks.

The filming itself is of a high quality, but I’m dubious about the production as a whole and whether it met expectations. When a standard has been set considerably high, there’s a long way for the film to fall. I feel that the success of the film is largely reliant on two things: Emily Blunt’s phenomenal portrayal of protagonist Rachel Watson, and the novel’s successful reception. Emily Blunt is undeniably a talented actor, but I cannot help feeling that her casting was either strategic or conveniently fitting in trying to sustain a ‘British’ quality in the film – the only noticeable one apparent to me.

After watching the film, I was frustrated by the adaptation, and couldn’t help wondering why there is this need to Americanise British novels. To me, there seems to be this deep-rooted fear about the success of British film companies in comparison to American labels.

I began to research into who owns the rights to the novel. According to online sources, DreamWorks Pictures acquired the film rights in 2014. My assumption was wrong. If this information is true, Hawkins would have sold the film rights before knowing the reception and merit her novel would receive. Despite this, I do still think Paula Hawkins is a sell out, just a different kind now that I know she sold the rights before the novel was released. Whether her decision was economically fuelled or done with artistic success of her work in mind, I can’t help hypothesising over what the film would have been like under the control of a British production label. Admittedly, the message and agenda of the plot isn’t reliant on ideas of nationhood and therefore its lack of it does not detract from the storyline.

Overall, the production left me with a cynical view of authorial and artistic morals. I do truly think that any novel’s identity should be one that is celebrated in its adaptation, rather than replaced. Then again, maybe I’m just a naïve 20-year-old writing absolute nonsense.



About Ruth Williams

A student in my third year studying English Literature.

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