Cynical insiders have a simple explanation of why movie moguls so love the plot of a good book. The studio lawyers will know who made it, and who owns it. Far better to pay the odd fat cheque to writers or estates for rights to unmade movies than risk stepping in the snakepit of lawsuits that can surround an "original" storyline. More idealistic souls still cherish a belief that the business of film has never lost respect or friendship for its literary older sibling – even if it has funny ways of showing that it cares. The gulf between book and film can, after the final cut, look yawningly vast. In There Will Be Blood, Sinclair's leading theme of union activism and Communist revolution is utterly buried by the fundamentalist sub-plot.
Sticking with Booker Prize winners and shortlisted titles, Atonement joins a surprisingly mixed, and strong, stable of adaptations. Booker movies stretch all the way from Steven Spielberg's heroic sweep in Empire of the Sun (Ballard) and Schindler's List (Keneally), Anthony Minghella's high romantic gloss in The English Patient (Ondaatje) or James Ivory's filigree craftsmanship in The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro) and Heat and Dust (Prawer Jhabvala) to the crackling ensemble work of Stephen Frears's The Van (Doyle) and Fred Schepisi's Last Orders (Swift). In spite of the odd misfire (Neil La Bute rather bungled Byatt's Possession), the record of Booker contenders on screen is more illustrious than many think. That troubling "Better than the book?" question may even arise – as it did, for me, during Richard Eyre's flawless rendering of Zoë Heller's shortlistee from 2003, Notes on a Scandal.