Screen Adaptation

Screen Adaptation


a cinematographic interpretation of a work from another art form—prose, drama, poetry, song, or opera or ballet libretto.

Immediately after its inception, the art of the cinematographer turned to literature for its plots and themes. The first Russian feature film, Sten’ka Razin and the Princess (1908, also known as The Freemen of the Lower Reaches), was a screen adaptation of the song “From the Island to the Channel” (”The Song of Sten’ka Razin”). By 1917 approximately 100 motion pictures had been made in Russia based on novels and novellas by A. S. Pushkin, F. M. Dostoevsky, A. P. Chekhov, L. N. Tolstoy, and other writers. Works of foreign literature were also widely adapted for the screen, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet. After the October Revolution of 1917, the mastery and further development of the realistic traditions of classic and modern literature made a significant contribution to the art of the Soviet motion picture. With the appearance of sound motion pictures, the expressive possibilities and selection of genres available to cinematography were greatly increased, and the motion-picture novel and novella were created.

Outstanding Soviet screen adaptations have included The Mother, based on the novel by M. Gorky (1926, directed by V. I. Pudovkin); The Poor Bride, based on the play by A. N. Os-trovskii (1936, directed by Ia. A. Protazanov); Peter the First, based on the historical novel by A. N. Tolstoy (1937–38, directed by V. M. Petrov); The Childhood of Gorky, In the World, and My Universities, based on works by Gorky (1938–40, directed by M. S. Donskoi); The Young Guard, based on the novel by A. A. Fadeev (1948, directed by S. A. Gerasimov); Othello, based on the play by Shakespeare (1956, directed by S. I. Iutkevich); The Quiet Don (1957–58, directed by Gerasimov) and A Man’s Fate (1959, directed by S. F. Bondarchuk), based on works by M. A. Sholokhov; Hamlet, based on the play by Shakespeare (1964, directed by G. M. Kozintsev); War and Peace, based on the novel by L. N. Tolstoy (1966–67, directed by Bondarchuk); The Brothers Karamazov, based on the novel by Dostoevsky (1969, directed by I. A. Pyr’ev); and The Dawns Here Are Quiet, based on a work by B. L. Vasil’ev (1972, directed by S. I. Rostotskii).

A popular device in foreign screen adaptations is the transfer of the action of a classic work into another time, usually modern. Screen adaptations are also frequently used in television programming, for example, the Soviet serial How the Steel Was Tempered, based on the novel by N. A. Ostrovskii, and the British serial The Forsyte Saga, based on the series of novels by J. Galsworthy.


Eisenstein, S. M. “Amerikanskaia tragediia.” In his Izbr. stat’i. Moscow, 1956.
Eisenstein, S. M. “Dikkens, Griffit i my.” Ibid. Moscow, 1956.
Romm, M. “O kino i o khoroshei literature.” In his collection Besedy o kino. Moscow, 1964.
Vaisfel’d, I. “Grani zhizni.” In his Masterstvo kinodramaturga. Moscow, 1961.
Manevich, I. M. Kino i literatura. Moscow, 1966.


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