Crime and Punishment at 150 (2016)

Crime and Punishment : Getting Personal About Adaptation O'Keefe, Andrew


When a screenwriter adapts a well-loved book, such as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, are there moral implications imposed with regard to delivering a screenplay that honours the intent of the novel’s author? Does the finished screenplay owe a debt of replication to the novel or is that merely a commercial apprehension that readers of the source material usually anticipate recognising the original narrative in the new work? If a writer is shackled by such concerns how do they deliver a personal vision and meaning in the work? Is a personal vision even necessary? This paper reflects on my own ethical concerns and considerations when adapting Dostoevsky’s psychological thriller to the screen. I explore a multitude of factors, both personal to resource-driven, that helped shape the final screenplay: how the need for truth led to the doubling of the age of the protagonist; how my personal attraction to a story overcame the fear of “tackling Dostoevsky”, and the forces led me to heighten some story aspects whilst reducing or banishing others. I conclude that, in my experience, the personal inspiration to attempt such a creative endeavour is within the writer from the outset, and may have subconsciously attracted them to the source material in the first place, as well influences the form and content of the work.

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