Catholic Novels

by gianni_gianni | created - 10 Oct 2013 | updated - 07 Nov 2013 | Public

Film adaptations of Catholic novels. These are novels written from a Catholic perspective, which is not to say that these novels look at all like the pious trash that is so often associated with overtly Christian works. This is also not a definitive list and the films are listed in no particular order. I will be adding more titles as I go along.

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1. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

PG | 116 min | Drama, Romance

A headstrong young teacher in a private school in 1930s Edinburgh ignores the curriculum and influences her impressionable twelve-year-old charges with her over-romanticized world view.

Director: Ronald Neame | Stars: Maggie Smith, Gordon Jackson, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin

Votes: 8,041

This is by far Muriel Spark's best-known work. It is witty and charming, which also leads us to forget that it is also a novel about betrayal, redemption, the inability to find redemption, and finding grace and redemption in the wrong places. The novel, even though it reads quite well, handles time in a very daring and experimental manner and the narrative constantly plays with flashbacks and flashforwards. One of the problems with this movie version is that, unlike what happens in the novel, time is reduced to a purely chronological sequence. However, some of these deficiencies in the film (which have to do with the film medium itself) are compensated by Maggie Smith's wonderful portrayal of the character of Jean Brodie.

2. Wise Blood (1979)

PG | 106 min | Comedy, Drama

A Southerner--young, poor, ambitious but uneducated--determines to become something in the world. He decides that the best way to do that is to become a preacher and start up his own church.

Director: John Huston | Stars: Brad Dourif, John Huston, Dan Shor, Harry Dean Stanton

Votes: 4,764

An interesting adaptation of O'Connor's novel. The novel is both a tragedy and a comedy, and the film captures a sense of that (which also means that it can be difficult to make sense of story). O'Connor was a devout Catholic and saw the world from very much a Catholic perspective, but she lived in Georgia and the people she wrote about were Bible Belt Protestants. Both the novel and the film are interesting because what we see is a Catholic tapestry but where the actors in this tapestry are all Protestant (or semi-Protestant or Protestant-ish). To make sense of O'Connor, we need to see her stories working at two levels. The term "analogical imagination" applies very much to her work.

3. Brideshead Revisited (2008)

PG-13 | 133 min | Drama, Romance

64 Metascore

A poignant story of forbidden love and the loss of innocence set in England prior to World War II.

Director: Julian Jarrold | Stars: Matthew Goode, Patrick Malahide, Hayley Atwell, Thomas Morrison

Votes: 11,717 | Gross: $6.41M

4. The Fugitive (1947)

Approved | 104 min | Drama, History

Anti-Catholic and anti-cleric policies in the Mexican state of Tabasco lead the revolutionary government to persecute the state's last remaining priest.

Directors: John Ford, Emilio Fernández | Stars: Henry Fonda, Dolores del Rio, Pedro Armendáriz, J. Carrol Naish

Votes: 1,956

John Ford's version of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. While Ford was a brilliant director, the constraints of the period and the fact moralistic Catholic groups had some such an influence in determining how priests should be represented in Hollywood films meant that his portrayal of the "whiskey priest" in the film is not altogether faithful to Greene's original version. There was something very honest about the priest in Greene's novel, and the "power and the glory" in the title paradoxically had to do with the fact that the main character was frail and all too human.

5. Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

Not Rated | 95 min | Drama

A young priest taking over the parish at Ambricourt tries to fulfill his duties even as he fights a mysterious stomach ailment.

Director: Robert Bresson | Stars: Claude Laydu, Nicole Ladmiral, Jean Riveyre, Adrien Borel

Votes: 8,888

Perhaps only a director like Bresson could have captured the essence of Georges Bernanos's novel. It is a story about suffering and spiritual disquiet.

6. Thérèse (2012)

110 min | Drama

49 Metascore

An unhappily married woman struggles to break free from social pressures.

Director: Claude Miller | Stars: Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Catherine Arditi

Votes: 3,475

François Mauriac was the great French Catholic novelist, although there was something Jansenist (or almost Calvinist) about his vision.

7. Silence (1971)

129 min | Drama, History

Two Jesuit priests encounter persecution when they travel to Japan in the 17th century to spread Christianity and to locate their mentor.

Director: Masahiro Shinoda | Stars: David Lampson, Don Kenny, Tetsurô Tanba, Mako

Votes: 854

This is a version by a Japanese director of Shûsaku Endô's famous novel about Jesuit missionaries in Japan. Martin Scorsese seems to be working on another version based on the same novel.

8. Black Narcissus (1947)

Not Rated | 101 min | Drama

After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension - both with the natives and also within their own group - as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger | Stars: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Jenny Laird

Votes: 20,104

A film adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel Black Narcissus, originally published in 1939. Godden wasn't yet a Catholic, but the high Anglicanism which permeates the novel is close enough to the Catholicism she later came to embrace.

9. The Third Man (1949)

Not Rated | 93 min | Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller

97 Metascore

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.

Director: Carol Reed | Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Votes: 150,526 | Gross: $0.45M

10. Mouchette (1967)

Not Rated | 81 min | Drama

A young girl living in the French countryside suffers constant indignities at the hand of alcoholism and her fellow man.

Director: Robert Bresson | Stars: Nadine Nortier, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Marie Cardinal, Paul Hébert

Votes: 9,296

11. The End of the Affair (1999)

R | 102 min | Drama, Romance

65 Metascore

A desperate man tries to find out why his beloved left him years ago.

Director: Neil Jordan | Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, Heather-Jay Jones

Votes: 20,518 | Gross: $10.66M

Graham Greene's novel came out in 1951. At the time, some Catholics were quite upset with the novel, but this also shows that Greene was not a propagandist, and that he was quite wiling to explore complicated moral issues. The virtue of this adaption by Neil Jordan is that the director actually understands the context, the dynamics of the context, as well as the tension involved.

12. Kristin Lavransdatter (1995)

180 min | Drama

Kristin is the daughter of a prominent landowner in medieval Norway. She grows up in total harmony with the ideals of the time: strong family ties, social pride and devout Christianity. She... See full summary »

Director: Liv Ullmann | Stars: Linus Aaberg, Gisken Armand, Berard Arnø, Bernhard Arnø

Votes: 934

Sigrid Undset's great trilogy was an attempt to reclaim the forgotten history of Scandinavia's Catholic past. The sweep is epic and the canvas is vast. I don't know to what extent the film captures that.

13. Sword of Honour (2001 TV Movie)

208 min | Drama, War

Guy Crouchback, heir to a declining English Roman Catholic family, returns to England from Italy at the start of World War II, and joins the Royal Corps of Halberdiers along with various ... See full summary »

Director: Bill Anderson | Stars: Will Adamsdale, Nick Bartlett, Christopher Benjamin, Jane Bertish

Votes: 710

This is an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's war trilogy: Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender (1961). As always, in the later work by Waugh there is a blurring of the distinction between what are Catholic and what are aristocratic values.

14. Brighton Rock (2010)

R | 111 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

57 Metascore

Charts the headlong fall of Pinkie (Sam Riley), a razor-wielding disadvantaged teenager with a religious death wish.

Director: Rowan Joffe | Stars: Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt

Votes: 5,956

15. Brighton Rock (1948)

Not Rated | 92 min | Crime, Drama

In Brighton in 1935, small-time gang leader Pinkie Brown murders a journalist and later desperately tries to cover his tracks but runs into trouble with the police, a few witnesses and a rival gang.

Director: John Boulting | Stars: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Harcourt Williams

Votes: 4,933 | Gross: $0.22M

The first film adaptation of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.

16. Under the Sun of Satan (1987)

TV-MA | 98 min | Drama, Fantasy

A priest stuck in a rural congregation and burdened with his overwrought spirituality, finds purpose in a troubled woman accused of murder.

Director: Maurice Pialat | Stars: Gérard Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat, Alain Artur

Votes: 2,681

An adaptation of the novel by Georges Bernanos.

17. The Fallen Idol (1948)

Approved | 95 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

88 Metascore

A butler working in a foreign embassy in London falls under suspicion when his wife accidentally falls to her death, the only witness being an impressionable young boy.

Director: Carol Reed | Stars: Ralph Richardson, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel, Bobby Henrey

Votes: 7,294 | Gross: $0.34M

The film is based, not on a novel, but on a short story. The author collaborated with the director in the making of the film.

18. Nasty Habits (1977)

PG | 96 min | Comedy

In a Philadelphia convent, two nuns battle it out to be elected to the position of head abbess, and neither is about to let anything stand in the way of getting what she wants.

Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg | Stars: Glenda Jackson, Melina Mercouri, Geraldine Page, Sandy Dennis

Votes: 283

This is film version of Muriel Spark's The Abbess of Crewe. The novel was ostensibly a send-up of the Watergate scandal, and it is quite funny. Behind the comedy was an altogether more complicated story about the nature of mockery. The problem with the film is that all we seem to see is Henry Kissinger and friends in drag.

19. A Handful of Dust (1988)

PG | 118 min | Drama, Romance

The wife's affair and a death in the family hasten the demise of an upper-class English marriage.

Director: Charles Sturridge | Stars: James Wilby, Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard Beale, Jackson Kyle

Votes: 1,709 | Gross: $1.56M

20. The Driver's Seat (1974)

R | 102 min | Drama

Mentally disturbed spinster Lise experiences a series of bizarre encounters in Rome as she searches for someone to murder her.

Director: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi | Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Ian Bannen, Guido Mannari, Mona Washbourne

Votes: 472

This is an adaptation of The Driver's Seat, a difficult and disturbing novel by Muriel Spark. The novel explores the question: "Who is ultimately in control? Who is ultimately in the driver's seat?" The film version was made by a distinguished Italian director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. Critics generally misunderstood the film, just as they probably would have misunderstood the novel (if it can be said that any of them read the novel).

21. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975)

R | 106 min | Crime, Drama

A young woman's life is scrutinized by police and tabloid press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist.

Directors: Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta | Stars: Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Dieter Laser, Jürgen Prochnow

Votes: 3,681

Heinrich Böl, the author of the novel, was a Catholic and Socialist. Towards the end of his life, he left the Church. This also shows that a Catholic perspective does not always coincide with membership of the institutional church. For English-speakers, this was probably his best-known novel.

22. The Loved One (1965)

Approved | 122 min | Comedy

Satire on the funeral business, in which a young British poet goes to work at a Hollywood cemetery.

Director: Tony Richardson | Stars: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, Anjanette Comer, Rod Steiger

Votes: 3,164

Evelyn Waugh's novel was a satire about death and dying and the whole funeral industry. It was funny and wicked. The problem with the film is that it seems to have lost the novel's satiric edge. There is something realistic about the film. If the story is seen as realistic, then everything that happens seems to be plain weird. I don't think the film is at all funny.

23. The Heart of the Matter (1953)

Approved | 100 min | Drama

An unhappily married British security officer stationed in Sierra Leone during World War II falls in love with a young Austrian woman and starts an affair. He soon starts feeling guilty.

Director: George More O'Ferrall | Stars: Trevor Howard, Elizabeth Allan, Maria Schell, Denholm Elliott

Votes: 330

A adaption of Graham Greene's novel.

24. The River (1951)

Not Rated | 99 min | Drama, Romance

Three adolescent girls growing up in Bengal, India, learn their lessons in life after falling for an older American soldier.

Director: Jean Renoir | Stars: Patricia Walters, Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields

Votes: 5,262

Rumer Godden's semi-autobiographical The River can hardly be classed with her later, more overtly Catholic novels (such as In This House of Brede), but it is a good enough entrée into her narrative world and the sorts of themes she was interested in. The film adaptation was by Jean Renoir.

An adaption of four novels by the British writer Antonia White: Frost in May, The Lost Traveller, The Sugar House & Beyond the Glass. The novels were partly autobiographical, and they function as a type of the portrait of the artist as a young girl.

26. Evenings (1989)

122 min | Biography, Drama

Frits van Egters' life in the last ten days of the year 1946.

Director: Rudolf van den Berg | Stars: Thom Hoffman, Rijk de Gooyer, Viviane de Muynck, Pierre Bokma

Votes: 481

An adaptation of De avonden (The evenings), a novel by the Dutch writer Gerard Reve. The novel was originally published in 1947.

27. Therese (1962)

109 min | Drama

After Thérèse is acquitted of trying to poison her husband, Bernard Desqueyroux, she recalls the events that lead to her being charged. At the beginning of her marriage to Bernard, the only... See full summary »

Director: Georges Franju | Stars: Emmanuelle Riva, Philippe Noiret, Edith Scob, Sami Frey

Votes: 416

28. The Tenth Man (1988 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 100 min | Drama, War

Based on the novel by Graham Greene, this is a story of a French advocate Chavel (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who, while imprisoned by the Germans during the occupation, trades his material ... See full summary »

Director: Jack Gold | Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Cyril Cusack

Votes: 1,172

29. The Power and the Glory (1961 TV Movie)

90 min | Drama

A cynical Catholic priest is sent to Mexico to preach. It's the 1930s and Mexican government sees the church as competition. They send a secret agent to assassinate the priest.

Director: Marc Daniels | Stars: Laurence Olivier, Julie Harris, George C. Scott, Martin Gabel

Votes: 47

Another version of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. There is also the version directed by John Ford.

30. Monk Dawson (1998)

Not Rated | 104 min | Drama

Rites of passage moral tale based on the award-winning novel by Piers Paul Read, about a Catholic priest who falls from grace and descends into a world of forbidden love and betrayal in 1970's London.

Director: Tom Waller | Stars: Benedict Taylor, Michael Cashman, Oliver Stone, Toby Hadoke

Votes: 130

An adaptation of a novel by Piers Paul Read.

31. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

PG-13 | 178 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

92 Metascore

A meek Hobbit from the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the powerful One Ring and save Middle-earth from the Dark Lord Sauron.

Director: Peter Jackson | Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean

Votes: 1,570,834 | Gross: $315.54M

The hype around and the popularity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy makes us forget that Tokien was an avowedly Catholic writer, that his work was allegorical, and that he was interested in exploring what were, in fact, theological issues. The nature of the story-telling in the novels derives much from the epics and the romances of Late Antiquity and the Medieval period.

32. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

PG-13 | 179 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

87 Metascore

While Frodo and Sam edge closer to Mordor with the help of the shifty Gollum, the divided fellowship makes a stand against Sauron's new ally, Saruman, and his hordes of Isengard.

Director: Peter Jackson | Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom

Votes: 1,407,413 | Gross: $342.55M

33. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

PG-13 | 201 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

94 Metascore

Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against Sauron's army to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring.

Director: Peter Jackson | Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

Votes: 1,559,024 | Gross: $377.85M

34. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

PG-13 | 169 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

58 Metascore

A reluctant Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home, and the gold within it from the dragon Smaug.

Director: Peter Jackson | Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis

Votes: 734,167 | Gross: $303.00M

35. Brideshead Revisited (1981)

659 min | Drama, Romance

Two young men meet at Oxford. Charles Ryder, though of no family or money, becomes friends with Sebastian Flyte when Sebastian throws up in his college room through an open window. He then ... See full summary »

Stars: Jeremy Irons, Diana Quick, Roger Milner, Phoebe Nicholls

Votes: 6,297

This was the first adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel.

36. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977)

Not Rated | 98 min | Drama

Stephen Dedalus is a young man growing up in Ireland in the early part of the twentieth century. His search for knowledge and understanding, and the decline of his family's circumstances, ... See full summary »

Director: Joseph Strick | Stars: Bosco Hogan, T.P. McKenna, John Gielgud, Rosaleen Linehan

Votes: 185

James Joyce's novel is not usually regarded as a Catholic novel. It is an extremely "churchy" book, but the perspective is really a secular one. At the same time, for people like Anthony Burgess, Joyce's novel was a more genuine Catholic novel than the work of Greene or Waugh. Joyce's work has also been influential in the work of novelists like Spark and Lodge and it is difficult to make sense of these later writers without reference to Joyce.

37. Fabiola (1949)

96 min | Drama, History

In ancient Rome a love story blossoms between Fabiola, daughter of a senator, and Rhual, a gallic gladiator. When Fabiola's father is killed, the Romans blame the Christians and the ... See full summary »

Director: Alessandro Blasetti | Stars: Michèle Morgan, Henri Vidal, Michel Simon, Louis Salou

Votes: 170

Alessandro Blasetti's adaptation of the novel Fabiola by Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman. I was not sure whether to include this adaptation of Wiseman's novel. It cannot be said that this was a novel in the league of Greene, Bernanos or Mauriac. There was something propagandist about this work.

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