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The huge differences between the Poor Things film and the chaotic book its based on

Writers made a big change to the ending

Yorgos Lanthimos’ new ultra-surrealist film, Poor Things, is officially out in UK cinemas today. And – despite him forgetting to thank the author of the source text in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes last weekend – the movie is actually adapted from an award-winning 1992 novel by the Scottish writer Alasdair Gray.

To win the rights to adapt Poor Things, Yorgos took a trip to Glasgow to meet Alasdair where the author gave him a walking tour of the city. During the day out, Yorgos won Alasdair’s approval to adapt his book. But Alasdair never got to see the finished work, as he died in 2019, aged 85, from complications of pneumonia.

So, in case you’re curious at how Yorgos and his screenwriter Tony McNamara took a 336 page novel and turned it into a film with the biggest award-season buzz of the year, here are the huge differences between Poor Things and the acclaimed book it was based on:

Bella is actually meant to be from Scotland not from London

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Credit: Searchlight Pictures

The whole point of Alasdair giving Yorgos a walking tour of Glasgow is that Poor Things was partly based in his home city, specifically Park Circus. But Yorgos opted out of a Glasgow setting for the movie and said it would be “totally disingenuous” of him, as a Greek, to make a film about Scotland. Instead, he set Bella’s flat in surreal version of London.

Poor Things wasn’t originally all from Bella’s perspective

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Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things is a novel made up of loads of different documents created by Alasdair: letters, journal entries, footnotes, portraits, maps, anatomy drawings, handwritten notes. The author called the process “multi-modal” and wanted to use all these art forms to create a book with different perspectives and reader interpretation.

But Yorgos thought it was important to make the Poor Things film all from Bella Baxter’s perspective: “We made a shift from the novel because the film is solely about her journey, her perspective,” he told The Guardian. “I felt that if we were going to do this, this world needs to be seen through her eyes,” he added, explaining the sound stage backdrop to the film.

Yorgos Lanthimos changed the story’s ending so it didn’t feel too dark

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Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Towards the end of Poor Things (**humungous spoiler alert, stop reading now if you haven’t seen it**) Bella’s abusive husband – from before she became Bella – appears in the middle of her wedding and takes her back to her old life.

Things then get pretty dark, which is not what Yorgos of Tony wanted from the ending of their film: “I think probably the last scene, the dinner table scene with Alfie when she goes back to her husband was difficult on a number of levels,” Tony told Collider.

“I was nervous because it’s weird to bring in a new character two hours into a movie who’s gonna be very intrinsic, so that seemed kind of risky,” he explained. “But also, I knew it was darker than where we had been, so I was like, ‘How do we keep the comedy? How do we keep it sort of unhinged and also make it feel emotional?’

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Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Tony solved the problem by giving Bella agency. In the book, she never chooses to see her old life and go back with Alfie. But in the film, Bella is “fearless” and decides to discover the life she lived before Dr. Godwin Baxter took her in. When the situation gets dicey, she manages to escape thanks to a servant revolt.

“Once she’s there, I was like, ‘Oh, well, how do I make it funny?’ And then I was like, ‘Maybe it’s this weird guy and he’s got a weird co-dependency with his servants and they’re having an uprising,'” says Tony. “So, it was just sort of, how do we make it odd and funny, like the rest of the movie, but in a slightly darker way so you’re a bit unnerved by the whole thing.”

Poor Things releases in UK cinemas on Friday. For all the best film , music, reality TV and entertainment news, like Pop Culture Shrine on Facebook

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Featured image credit via Searchlight Pictures