Playwright Patrick Marber wrote the screenplay of Zoe Heller's book Notes on a Scandal. Both writers talked to me about the painful process of turning a novel into a filmby John Nathan / July 23, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Patrick Marber first met Zoë Heller in New York in 2003. Marber—a British playwright, comedian, actor and director—was there to work on the film version of his 1997 play, Closer. Heller was then the author of two novels. It was the second of these, the widely acclaimed Notes on a Scandal, that was the reason for their meeting. It is a dark, intricate tale of an embittered older teacher, Barbara Covett, who manipulates a younger teacher at her school, Sheba Hart, using her knowledge of Sheba’s illicit relationship with a pupil. Marber wanted to adapt it into a film. Heller agreed.
Cinematic adaptation is often considered original writing’s poor cousin. But the result, released in 2006, won critical approval and four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay. Now Marber is adapting Heller’s third novel, The Believers (2008), into a screenplay too. Set in New York, it follows the fortunes of a family of left-wing Jewish atheists headed by a campaigning lawyer called Joel and an English-born matriarch called Audrey. In June, I sat down with Marber and Heller in a stuffy room in the bowels of a central London hotel, and asked them to talk me through the sometimes painful process of adaptation.