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Book v. Film: ‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman

I’d had the book of this on my wishlist for *ages* when both Ellie and Hanna kindly bought me it for my birthday last year.  The obvious problem with having two people whose opinions you respect send you the same book is that it doubles the pressure that the poor book is labouring under.

I never actually got to telling you how much I loved it last year because I read it just before I decided to cut my losses on the backlog of reviews and just finish up 2012 and start again in 2013.  But I really did love it!  Last weekend, when a horrendous cold/chest infection arrived, I tucked myself up in a duvet and settled down to watch the film based on the wonderful novel, which makes now the perfect time to have a bit of a chat about both.

Just as a warning, this is a hybrid review/comparison between the book and the film and there may well be a few minor spoilers if you either haven’t read the book or watched the film!  Careful as we go, folks!


Buy your own copy at the
Book Depository here
I was promised “a fairy tale like no other, of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes ,lies, truths, passion and miracles“.  And blimey, does Goldman deliver.
I loved the story-within-a-story part.  There’s something so…beautiful about the parts of the novel where “Goldman’s” father reads him the story while he’s poorly, even though he can only just about read.  A then grown up William Goldman sets out to re-capture the magic for his son by re-writing what he learns is actually a rather unwieldy original.  Little asides from the author pepper the story and make it more than “just” a fairytale. That moment where a story completely catches the young narrator’s imagination is one that most readers will remember from their childhood and the fact that it’s read by a parent is just all the more lovely.

The fairytale part of the story plays with your mind like the best kind of fairy tale and is utterly magical.  Funny, yes, but also delightfully whimsical and so very charming.  There are despicable baddies and loveable minions that are on the wrong track but deep-down are really just sort of rakish.  And, of course, there’s true love, which may or may not triumph in the face of mild peril…The quote up there says it all, really.  What more could you want?!

My mum currently has my extra copy and when she’s read it, I’ll be inflicting it upon my younger sister (Mum, if you see this, get reading!).  A five-star, favourite read of 2012, easily.


So the book turned out to be fabulous and it was the film’s turn to labour under the weight of lofty expectations.  I’d had the DVD for a while but had neglected it until germs compelled me to scour our collection for something fun.  I’m always sceptical about adaptations because, really, when do they ever meet up to our expectations as readers?

The adaptation was released in 1987 and has dated in a way that the book obviously hasn’t.  For the most part, the version I watched has been updated so that the wobbly edges that normally give away older films aren’t there.  It’s only when special effects come into play that the age becomes more apparent.  The R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size) (which seemingly have quite the cult following, incidentally) are an entertaining aside in the book but are a little jarring in the film…

See?  80s creatures at their best!
My favourite thing about the book to film shift is the casting: Cary Elwes and Robin Wright are perfect as Wesley and Buttercup respectively.  Wesley was just the right amount of dashing and his EYES are just so pretty…*swoon*.  Buttercup was actually a little less feisty than I imagined her to be and there was a bit more sitting around and waiting to be saved than there was in the book but she has just enough attitude to carry it off without being insipid.  You do kind of have to take their life-altering true love at face value because the beginning scenes fly by very quickly but the actors play it very well and I was sold 🙂

The dialogue was still sharp and snappy but it didn’t sparkle quite as much as it did tucked amongst some equally sharp and snappy narration.  Without the characters’ back stories, some of the recurring features of the film don’t have quite the resonance that they do in the book.  In the book, as each of the characters is introduced, you get a potted life story and it makes the remainder of the novel flow so much better.  Inigo Montoya, for example, is played wonderfully and my *favourite* scene in the whole film is where he faces off against the man that killed his father – it’s funny but also kind of heart-warming (you know, so much as a sword fight can be!) and it’s almost exactly how I imagined it when I read it but I would imagine that it isn’t quite as much so if you aren’t as attached to Inigo to begin with…I can’t resist including the clip but PLEASE REMEMBER that if you haven’t seen the film or read the book, this is towards the end!

The Verdict?  As always, I’d recommend reading the book first – there’s so much more detail, wit and swashbuckling in the literary version than there is in the film.  The film is entertaining but a little unfulfilling in isolation.  Need a pick-me-up when you’re missing Goldman’s quirky style and characters, though?  Get the film and settle down for a really jolly good version of the cult classic novel.