I went to watch Me Before You today and I was so looking forward to seeing a beloved book come to life on screen. Over the years I’ve bought multiple copies of this book and given it to other people – telling them to read it! People must read it! Some warned me the film wouldn’t necessarily meet expectations of what a book to film translation should be. Others said they were delighted with the film version of the book.
Me Before You is a trite book. It is chick-lit in many ways. It’s a piece of fiction, a piece of art. I began reading chick-lit when I was about thirteen alongside tomes like Dracula, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre. As you can tell, I like to mix it up. But enough about me…
Throughout the 1hr 50min film, I found myself looking at the gorgeous and delectable Sam Claflin, wondering if Will Traynor would still have that much muscle mass as a man confined to a wheelchair for the past two years. Not to mention all his bouts of pneumonia. I wasn’t sure about that… which tells you everything about this film really. It asks you suspend your disbelief. Sam Claflin became Will for the purpose of this romance but no Oscar-winning triumph will be had from this. Claflin isn’t a Matthew McConaughey or Christian Bale dropping all their weight for their art. This was a romance film. End of.
With this in mind, we’d better look back at the book which could be deemed literary fiction in several aspects. Literary novels deliver scenic windows into the world within the novel but commercial novels more often than not deliver postcards – snippets of the world. I felt like this film was a snippet of a world we got to read about in the book, Me Before You. So much was missing for me. For example, the scene where Louisa and Will explore the castle and Louisa gets lost. This helps us understand the trauma which made Lou backtrack in life, stay in her hometown and never pursue her dreams. At the beginning of the book we’re given indications she might still have PTSD. That was missing from the film. The actual romantic scenes – the kissing I mean – were rubbish. Totally PG. It was like a brother and sister kissing. The guy who played her lousy boyfriend Patrick might as well have never appeared in the film because he wasn’t given much more of a role than “Sports-mad boyf she gets shot of to be with Will”.
I read Me Before You four whole years ago and it always astonishes me that people only start reading a book sometimes because it’s been turned into a film – even when that film does nothing to add or embellish the original story. Perhaps one of the most astonishing film adaptations, Atonement, was just so good because of the music, the battlefields… the authenticity. The acting. Atonement was the film where I first noticed Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays as good a villain as hero.
So despite the four years between me reading the book and seeing the film, one of the scenes which remains stuck in my mind and remains fresh (perhaps fermented slightly) is the scene of the lightning storm on holiday (Louisa takes Will for a last-ditch trip abroad to convince him not to go through with his plan to visit Dignitas). The lightning scene was changed for the film version and… there were even suggestions of SEX! OMG. “Stay the night.” I don’t know if he could get it up, but… anyway. Probably not… but that could explain the 12A certificate for an otherwise PG film… again, probably not. But a girl can dream. I realise film studios have a budget and a smaller runtime for “romances” but this film didn’t give me anything more than the book did, apart from maybe Sam Claflin.
Now, onto the subject of suicide. While reading the book four years ago (a lot can happen in four years), I was angry about this portion because I sort of knew it was coming and fully expected it but hated it, still. I decided he had a tongue and some working fingers and Louisa loved him enough so I thought, yeah, maybe he could live happily with her. And then I realised, Hey this is fiction. I respect the decision of the author who said she wrote this book with no idea how it would end. She didn’t change that portion for the film version and in a way, I’m glad. For Will, he has that choice available to him and he takes it. It’s not one everyone will agree with. For example, I know at least half a dozen people currently living with chronic pain or life-threatening illnesses every single day of their lives and for them, suicide is the last thing on their mind. What happens in Me Before You is Will’s choice and he explains it, saying he wouldn’t want Louisa to miss out on things he couldn’t give her, but also he’d had a big life before he became a quadriplegic and for him, what he was left with was worse than death. But scratch all that anyway… because for me, the moral of the book was that Louisa wasn’t living until Will came along and knowing he’d done good eased his passing. But a chunk of stuff was missing from the film to explain why Louisa wasn’t living.
It’s a sad story, an uplifting story. A beautiful story. A simple story. A stunningly-written story. But it is a story. A reminder to make more of our lives, to live each day as it comes. To go bananas sometimes and not regret it. I love the whole stripy tights thing, book and film version. I even loved Emilia Clarke’s saccharine portrayal of Lou. When I finished the book four years ago, I sat with Florence and the Machine’s Never Let Me Go on repeat for a few days. It was a really hard book to get over. I was angry with Will and confused, because the book slowly built to a lilting crescendo and then… nothing. Gone. In the film, the ending was even more rushed. I didn’t like it. Unlike many other women crying in the audience at the end, I couldn’t join them. I think the part I most wanted to cry at was the part where they’re sat at a classical concert and he looks over at her with that misty look in his eyes and it’s just heartbreaking… because you know what’s coming. It’s a difficult thing reconciling yourself with the choice he makes and I’m saying that knowing full well I’m talking about a fictional character as if they’re real. I adored his dry wit and laughed out loud many a time during the film and book. Anyway…
I know one thing. I might now be ready for the sequel After You (but only in book form). Maybe the point is, with books we get all the fine details… and we get to imagine another world for ourselves. Often the filmic version just doesn’t match what is in our mind. Overall this film was a 3* but I’ll give it 4 just because I loved the book so much.
I shudder when I think about any of my books being made into films. I’d probably just shut my eyes and hand the book to a scriptwriter with the words, “It’ll never be the book… but go for it, if that’s what people need.”