The sprawling new Steve McQueen crime thriller Widows is based on a British mini-series written by Prime Suspect creator Lynda La Plante, which first aired in 1983. The 1980s were a halcyon time for the mini-series, both in Britain and America (and Australia, for that matter).
Another classic from that era, 1987’s Billionaire Boys Club, recently got adapted into a movie starring Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton and…Kevin Spacey. So it kinda got dumped. And it’s apparently terrible. Netflix’s House of Cards was based on a 1980s British mini-series, too.
You could argue that on some level, last year’s smash hit It was based on a mini-series. The filmmakers spoke at length about the importance of distancing themselves from the Tim Curry version, but the film clearly took many aesthetic and tonal cues from the 1990 mini-series adaptation.
To mark the release this week of Widows we are going to present five other mini-series from the 1980s that we think could work as movies.
Judith Krantz was the biggest name in 1980s mini-series, and adaptations of her novels all covered similar territory: beautiful, ambitious people suffering setbacks, and then prevailing in a glamorous industry. Usually with Barry Bostwick.
In Scruples, the first Krantz mini-series adaptation, Lindsay Wagner (fresh off The Bionic Woman), stars as Billy, a secretary-turned-trophy wife-turned-widow who opens the titular Beverly Hills boutique.
This lurid Aussie pearler is best remembered for its infamous swimming pool crocodile attack scene, and that moment alone justifies mounting a big screen version of the soapy revenge tale.
Rebecca Gilling plays heiress Stephanie Harper, whose younger husband (a sleazy turn from Aussie muso James Reyne) pushes her into croc-infested swamp on their honeymoon (the swimming pool moment comes later). She somehow survives the encounter, has extensive plastic surgery, and returns to Eden, I mean Sydney, as a supermodel to take her revenge. Tell me you don’t want to see that on the big screen?
There was a less memorable follow-up TV series in 1986, and an aborted attempt at an Australian mini-series reboot about five years ago. Say it with me: it’s time to return to Return to Eden.
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The prospect of a movie based on this alien-invasion classic was dealt a blow when Independence Day was released, as the Roland Emmerich team borrowed its most iconic image: giant flying saucers hovering over the cities of Earth.
The mini-series chronicled life on Earth under outwardly friendly, but actually sinister, lizard-y aliens who disguised themselves as humanoid. V‘s second most iconic image—that of an alien lady eating a live guinea pig—remains tragically underexploited on the big screen.
Phoebe Cates plays the character who utters the words, an ingenue named Lili, and she’s something of a proto-Anastasia Steele. The mini-series sees Lili gathering three women together and confronting them about her lineage, which leads to flashbacks covering how they all got to where they are.
Would probably require an ironic approach to be effective as a movie, but I for one would see that movie. Followed by Lace II (“Which one of you bastards is my father?”)
Bangkok Hilton (1989)
One of Nicole Kidman’s two break-out performances (alongside the same year’s Dead Calm), this mini-series presented the disturbingly plausible tale of a young Australian woman who becomes an unwitting drug mule and ends up in a hellish Thailand prison where she endures unimaginable horrors.
The 1999 Kate Beckinsale/Claire Danes film Brokedown Palace covered similar territory, but that was kind of an odd film. The second Bridget Jones movie also went slightly Bangkok Hilton, but again, it was weird.