Donna Tartt’s wonderfully Dickensian novel “The Goldfinch,” winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has a movie deal in place: Warner Bros. has announced that it has acquired the movie rights to the novel, along with RatPac Entertainment (director/producer Brett Ratner’s company). “The Goldfinch,” the sprawling tale of a motherless boy and a painting, was one of my favorite books of the past year, and in reading it I could definitely see its cinematic potential . . . but it’s going to be, I’ll guess, a difficult adaptation, for many of the same reasons that Tartt’s “The Secret History” never quite made it to the screen.
If you know “The Secret History” (Tartt’s debut novel, an addictive literary mystery and huge bestseller two decades ago), here’s a tidbit on its flirtation with the movies: A few years ago, I interviewed the screenwriter Christopher Hampton (who’d then just finished “Atonement”), and he mentioned that he was hired, way back when, to adapt “The Secret History” for the screen. Here’s what he said:
One of the projects I most regret . . . I did an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s book, “The Secret History,” a marvelous book and very cinematic. There was a moment where [the producers] said, well, the hero’s too passive. I said, that’s what the book’s about. They said well, we can’t make a film with a passive hero. I wrote a screenplay, several drafts. What really happened was that I worked with [director] Alan Pakula, a wonderful man, and in the middle of the process he got killed in a car crash, and the whole thing sort of drifted away. And then the option lapsed, and Donna Tartt was so disillusioned she didn’t pick it up. One day, maybe they’ll come to their senses.