Book-to-Movie Review: The Children of Men by P.D. James

I reviewed both the book The Children of Men and the film adaptation in 2007. The reviews were originally posted on my personal blog, and I wanted to move them both here to Books and Movies. Instead of doing two separate posts, I thought it would be interesting to see them contrasted in one post. First, the book:

Title: The Children of Men
Author: P.D. James
Genre: Dystopian fiction, science fiction
Publisher: Vintage
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days.

The Children of Men opens in 2021. It has been 25 years since the Omega, the name given to the last year that included any human births. No babies have been born or conceived since. Doctors and scientists have exhausted all resources in their search for a reason for this phenomenon, as well as a solution. All efforts have failed, and the human race has accepted the fact that it is dying out.

The book is told in two ways: through the journal entries of “Theodore Faron, Doctor of Philosophy, Fellow of Merton College in the University of Oxford, historian of the Victorian age, divorced, childless, solitary, whose only claim to notice is that he is cousin to Xan Lyppiatt, the dictator and Warden of England…,” and through third-person narration following Theo’s experiences with a subversive group known as The Five Fishes.

This book vividly demonstrates what happens when humankind vales sex for pleasure but not for procreation, when it values pleasure and comfort over justice and mercy, when it seeks for perfection and despises human frailty. It is not an easy read, in the sense that it is disheartening to read such a clear picture of what humankind is capable of if left to it’s own designs.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away to those of you who are planning to read this book or see the film, but I will say that Ms. James gives a strong argument for valuing each and every human life. I am now a little reluctant to watch the movie, because I will be surprised if that message comes through.

And now, for my review of the film version…

Last month, I read and reviewed the book The Children of Men by P. D. James. I knew the movie was coming out (starring one of my favorites – Clive Owen), and I wanted to read the book first. Unfortunately, I think I would have enjoyed the movie much more if I hadn’t.

There are a few similarities between the book and the movie.

~They are both set in the future.
~In the future, the human race has stopped reproducing.
~There are characters named Theo and Julian.
~Theo meets a young pregnant woman and helps her evade the government.

That’s really all they had in common. The characters are completely different. In the book, Theo is a retired college professor. In the movie, he is a disgruntled office worker. In the book, he has a friend named Jasper who is also a retired college professor. In the movie, his friend Jasper (played by Michael Caine) is a pot-growing hippy ex-activist.

In the book, Theo’s wife Julian (portrayed by Julianne Moore) is a shallow character who barely makes an appearance. In the movie, Julian is an underground political activist who cons Theo into helping the pregnant girl by offering him 5,000 pounds. In the book, Theo decides to help the girl on principal and because he is drawn to her – not for money.

I could go on and on. Why is it that people find a book that they enjoy, think would make a great movie, and then promptly change everything about it? I just don’t get it.

And more than the character and plotline changes, there is the whole theme of the book: the sacredness of life and how a world divorced from a Christian worldview becomes a place of horror and outrage. The movie becomes a political manifesto of a different sort. In fact, the whole idea that people have stopped reproducing seems to be secondary to the fact that Britain has started deporting all immigrants and has descended into mass chaos.

As you can see, I was disappointed in this movie. Perhaps if I hadn’t read the book, and didn’t know what P. D. James’ original vision for the story was, I would have enjoyed it, but I’m not sure. If you are a fan of futuristic sci-fi and haven’t read the book, you might enjoy this movie. But if you loved the book as I did, the movie will be a huge let-down.

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16 Responses to Book-to-Movie Review: The Children of Men by P.D. James

  1. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I used to read everything James wrote, but this book is so far from her norm, I avoided it. It sounds like it’s thought provoking.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathy – yes, she is definitely more recognized for her mysteries. I actually read this before I read any of her mysteries, and I’ve yet to read a book by her that I didn’t enjoy!

  2. Melissa
    Twitter: myeclecticbooks

    I hadn’t read the book and the movie was still a pretty huge let down!

  3. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    Oh man, Clive Owen was so good in that movie. And I did love the movie, but never read the book. I think I would enjoy the theme of the sacredness of life much more than the ones pursued on film actually. You know a couple of years ago, I flipped my lid over the mess Hollywood can make. I had been watching A Little Princess for YEARS, over and over, and loved it. Then I read the book. They totally changed the ending! I am still mad about that.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandy – I know I’ve both read and watched A Little Princess, but can’t remember the ending – or the difference. You should give this book a try – I think you would really dig it.

  4. Bonnie says:

    I’ve put off reading the book for some time now, but I recently found it cheap at a discount bookstore. I think I’ll give it a try some time this year.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie but the sad thing is that I couldn’t even remember that I’d seen it. I had to read your whole review and almost hit myself in the head to remember that I did see the film. So I guess that means it wasn’t very good IMHO! I’d love to read the book and the story sounds much, much better than how it was put together for the movie. I do love Clive Owen though!!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathleen -you and me, both! When I was watching the Golden Globes with my parents and he walked out to present, my mom said, “Are you drooling?” LOL

  6. Jeane says:

    I really liked the movie- I didn’t know the two were so different. It sounds like the book is even better, so I do want to read it now as well. I’ll just have to tell myself it’s a different story.

  7. irene says:

    I saw this movie, but have not read the book, now I must search the shelves, I know I must have it. Thanks so much.

  8. Jules
    Twitter: bookwormjules

    I’ saw the movie, read the book. For me it was one of those rare times I liked the movie better than the book.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Jules – I usually like books better, too – it’s rare that I find a movie better than the book it’s based on. Though I couldn’t make it through the book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and I’m still looking forward to the film!