The ‘Coming Soon to TV’ shelf in your local bookshop will be sagging under the weight of this lot – the thrillers, sci-fi stories, crime novels and non-fiction currently being adapted for television. If you prefer to read ahead before your imagination is sullied by the small screen version, then here’s where to start, from Apple TV+’s adaptation of 1950s-set revenge comedy Lessons in Chemistry and psychological thriller The Crowded Room, to Prime Video’s new Neil Gaiman show Anansi Boys and rumoured Kay Scarpetta series, via Netflix’s true-life opioid drama Painkiller, ITVX/MGM+ historical adventure series The Winter King and many more. Many many more.
It’s too soon to say when we’ll see those planned adaptations below which are yet to film, given the current WGA Writers’ Strike and earth-shifts taking place among the streaming networks whose pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap model is proving unsustainable, but we’ll keep you posted as more news arrives.
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Silo by Hugh Howey (Apple TV+, weekly until June 30)
Hugh Howey’s addictive sci-fi Silo trilogy started life as a 2011 self-published short story that grew into three celebrated books plus a graphic novel. Set in a vast underground bunker that’s home to 10,000 people a century after an apocalyptic event that made the outside world toxic, it’s a conspiracy thriller and sci-fi adventure about seeking the truth whatever the cost. Apple TV+ has adapted the first book instalment ‘Wool’ into a very decent 10-part drama starring Dune’s Rebecca Ferguson and Selma’s David Oyelowo, with a second season already in development.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (Disney+, May 24)
On Disney+ since May 24 is Kelvin Yu’s eight-part adaptation of Gene Luen Yang’s 2006 graphic novel about a US teenager who becomes unexpectedly involved in a battle between gods from Chinese mythology. The show is already of note to fans of Oscar-winner Everything Everywhere All at Once for featuring celebrated cast-members Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan, and promises to bring the action comedy adventure to life, with Lucy Liu directing.
The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers (BBC One, May 31)
Filmmaker Shane Meadows’ (This Is England, The Virtues) first series for the BBC is a three-part drama inspired by Ben Myers’ trippy 2017 historical novel The Gallows Pole. Set in 18th century Yorkshire, it’s the true story of a band of villagers who rebel against the crown by forging coins. The BBC One series functions as a kind of prequel to the novel, and with Meadows’ characteristic improvised style, is a very different take on period drama, with a vibrant cast including This Is England’s Michael Socha and Thomas Turgoose, with The Green Knight‘s Ralph Ineson and Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera.
The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes (Apple TV+, June 9)
Going by the title The Crowded Room when it arrives on June 9, Daniel Keyes’ 1981 non-fiction work The Minds of Billy Milligan is the latest book to be adapted for Apple TV+. Created by Star Trek and Batman screenwriter and producer Akiva Goldsman, and based on real events, the series stars Tom Holland as the defendant in a 1979 shooting, with Amanda Seyfried as his interrogator Rya Goodwin. We won’t spoil what makes Holland’s character notable here, but once you’ve seen the series, this book and its sequel The Milligan Wars are where to go for more.
Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben (Netflix, tbc)
One of Harlan Coben’s 34-strong collection of thriller novels, Fool Me Once, published in 2016, is the story of special ops pilot Maya, who discovers that there’s more to her husband’s brutal murder than first appears. As ever, the action has been relocated from the US to the UK for this TV thriller. Following on from The Stranger and Stay Close, this is the third English-language Netflix Harlan Coben adaptation, and stars Our Girl and Brassic’s Michelle Keegan alongside Coben stalwart Richard Armitage. Expect ludicrous twists, unlikely secrets and never a dull moment.
Pain Killer by Barry Meier (Netflix, August 10)
Going by the full title ‘An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic’, Meier’s non-fiction book tracks the role of the ultra-wealthy Sackler family in the spread of the US’ devastating opioid addiction (also documented by Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article ‘The Family that Built an Empire of Pain’, later turned into his book Empire of Pain). The Netflix series Painkiller will be a dramatisation of the Sackler story, not a documentary, and will come directed by Friday Night Lights’ Peter Berg, starring Matthew Broderick, Taylor Kitsch, and Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba.
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell (ITVX/MGM+, August 20)
The next TV adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s historical novels (after Sharpe and The Last Kingdom) will be The Winter King, based on his three-book series of Arthurian tales The Warlord Chronicles. First published in 1995, The Winter King was followed by Enemy of God and Excalibur and together, they tell the story of King Arthur not as a wise and just king, but a brutal sixth century warlord. Doctor Who and His Dark Materials’ Bad Wolf are behind the TV adaptation, which stars Eddie Marsan, Iain de Caestecker and Nathaniel Martello-White.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Netflix, November 2)
From the producer of Stranger Things Shawn Levy comes this adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning WWII novel, published in 2014. Doerr’s book is an acclaimed bestseller that tells the story of a blind French teenage girl who crosses paths with a young German soldier after the Nazi occupation of Paris. The cast of the limited series includes Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie, with newcomer Aria Mia Loberti in the lead role of Marie-Laure LeBlanc.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Apple TV+, Autumn tbc)
Elizabeth Zott is not your average thinker. A brilliant chemist whom 1950s America insists on judging solely by her looks (good) and single mother status (bad), Zott battles ignorance and sexism from all corners, from her PhD supervisor to her kids’ schoolteacher to the boss of the TV network where she – reluctantly – presents a hit daytime cookery show.
Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson will play Elizabeth in Apple TV+’s adaptation of the bestselling comedic revenge novel, published in 2022. Showrun by WeCrashed and Little America’s Lee Eisenberg, this colourful 50s-set story is due out later this year.
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Netflix, 2023 tbc)
One of the most celebrated Chinese science-fiction novels of recent years, The Three Body Problem is the first book of a trilogy that’s part government conspiracy thriller and part VR game sci-fi adventure. In 2015, it became the first East Asian book to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, among other nominations. Little wonder that it came to the attention of Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss, who are adapting the novel Netflix alongside True Blood and The Terror’s Alexander Woo. (Chinese live-action and animated series adaptations have already aired.) The Netflix series is due to air later this year, so get reading if you want to be ahead of the curve.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (Prime Video, tbc)
Neil Gaiman channeled West African folklore and Jamaican myth in 2005 to tell this modern-day story of gods, brothers, and tricksters. It’s the humorous, imaginative UK-set fantasy story of Fat Charlie and Spider, the sons of the slippery Mr Nancy (also a character in Gaiman’s American Gods), who have to negotiate their mystical inheritance. The TV adaptation, which is due to arrive on Prime Video after the second series of Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s fantasy Good Omens, will star Small Axe and Roots’ Malachi Kirby, alongside Delroy Lindo, Whoopi Goldberg and more.
One Day – David Nicholls (Netflix, tbc)
David Nicholls’ 2009 best-selling relationship drama One Day is a lot of people’s favourite book, so when the much-trimmed 2011 film adaptation came out featuring American actor Anne Hathaway as Yorkshirewoman Emma Morley, a lot of people were left disappointed. Now, Emma and Dexter’s story has another chance on screen, and this one looks promising. This is Going to Hurt’s Ambika Mod and The White Lotus’ Leo Woodall will play Emma and Dexter, who hook up at university on St Swithin’s Day, and whose lives we check in on every 15th of July for the 20 years that follow.
The Burning Girls – C.J. Tudor (Paramount+)
When The Richard and Judy Book Club says yes, who is anyone to say no? 2021 horror thriller The Burning Girls was picked for the popular accolade and is currently being adapted for Paramount+ with a top cast led by Harlots and The Walking Dead‘s Samantha Morton and Lockwood & Co. and Bridgerton‘s Ruby Stokes. It’s the story of Jack and Flo, a reverend (Morton) and her daughter (Stokes), who move to a new town that’s haunted by the historical disappearance of two teenage girls. Further back in their new home’s spooky history is the burning of Protestant martyrs, whose story becomes intertwined with the present day, resulting in a twisty psychological horror/small town mystery.
Dune by Frank Herbert (HBO Max, tbc)
Dune prequel Dune: The Sisterhood was ordered to series two years before Denis Villeneuve’s movie adaptation was released in 2021, but after the production was put on hiatus earlier this year following a creative shake-up, it’s unknown whether we’ll ever see it. Whatever happens with the TV show, there’s a movie sequel on the way, so fans might want to bone up on Frank Herbert’s original 1965 novel all the same. How else to really get to grips with the lore of the Bene Gesserit, the superpowered faction whose origin this series was intended to explore.
Sweetpea by CJ Skuse (Sky Atlantic, tbc)
If psychotic anti-heroines are your thing, then look out for Sky Atlantic’s adaptation of CJ Skuse’s serial killer novel Sweetpea. Published in 2017, and followed by sequels In Bloom and Dead Head, Sweetpea is the dark and funny tale of Rhiannon, who escaped childhood infamy to lead a quiet adult life… that’s not as dull as it seems. Kirstie Swain, the screenwriter of Channel 4 OCC drama Pure, is behind this adaptation, which promises to be a gleefully gruesome killer fantasy.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Peacock/Sky Atlantic)
Heather Morris’ bestselling Holocaust book was originally written as a screenplay before being reshaped as a novel, so it seems natural for the story to find its way onto television, courtesy of Peacock and Sky Atlantic. Based on real events, Morris’ novel tells the story of Lale Sokolov and Gita Furman’s romance, which began in Auschwitz in 1942. The TV adaptation began production in 2023, with a cast expected to include Harvey Keitel, Yellowjackets’ Melanie Lynskey, Jonah Hauer-King and The Innocents’ Anna Próchniak.
The Rapture by Liz Jensen (BBC, tbc)
Liz Jensen’s eco-thriller The Rapture came out to great acclaim in 2009 (not least from Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, whose review describes it as a blueprint for aspiring thriller writers). It’s the story of psychotherapist Gabrielle Fox, who works at a secure unit for problem teenagers where she encounters Bethany, a teen who has troubling predictions for the planet’s future. Gabrielle became a wheelchair user following a serious car accident that upended her life, and so begins a gripping story of environmental collapse, guilt, and a bid to survive. Years and Years and Doctor Who’s Ruth Madeley will play Fox in the BBC adaptation.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (BBC One, tbc)
Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning autobiographically inspired novel tells the story of young Shuggie, a sensitive boy growing up among poverty and addiction in 1980s Glasgow. Told with stark honesty and bleak humour, the novel will break your heart, mend it, and break it again, so don’t expect this TV adaptation from A24 and BBC Studios to be any different. Stuart is writing the screenplay, and casting is yet to be announced.
The Kay Scarpetta Novels by Patricia Cornwell (Prime Video)
Still officially unconfirmed by Prime Video but reported in February 2023 by Deadline, Nicole Kidman is rumoured to be taking the lead role and exec producing a new crime thriller adapted from Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Kay Scarpetta books. Kidman will play the perfectionist, workaholic and glamorous chief medical examiner/forensic pathologist Scarpetta, with Jamie Lee Curtis rumoured to play her sister Dorothy. The plan is apparently for two eight-episode series to begin with, and with 27 novels to serve as story inspiration, that could well just be the start.
Also Being Adapted For Television
- Jack Thorne is adapting William Golding’s survival nightmare novel Lord of the Flies for BBC One.
- Former Empire magazine editor Terri White is adapting her memoir Coming Undone for Netflix, starring I Hate Suzie’s Billie Piper in the lead role.
- Chloe Ayling’s Kidnapped, adapted from her true account of her own kidnapping, is coming to BBC Three in the UK.
- From the adapter of Starz’ Dangerous Liaisons, Agatha Christie mystery adaptation Murder is Easy is on its way to the BBC, and BritBox internationally.
- From Louise Doughty, the novelist behind Apple Tree Yard and BBC Keeley Hawes thriller Crossfire comes supernatural thriller Platform Seven, due to debut on ITVX.
- Disney+ has re-adapted Jilly Cooper’s bonkbuster Rivals with a vast cast including David Tennant, Aidan Turner, Danny Dyer, Katherine Parkinson, Claire Rushbrook and more.
- Holly Jackson’s celebrated 2019 young adult crime novel A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is coming to BBC Three in a six-part thriller series about the murder of a schoolgirl.
- Border-crossing thriller You by Zoran Drvenkar has become drugs-on-the-run thriller Then You Run, coming soon to Sky Max.
- Nikki May’s buzzy novel Wahala about the complicated personal and work lives of three British-Nigerian London women is being adapted for the BBC.
- Sheridan Smith will star in travel thriller The Castaways based on Lucy Clarke’s novel of the same name for Paramount+.
- Traitors and Everything I Know About Love’s Emma Appleton will star opposite Humans and Merlin’s Colin Morgan in the Paramount+ adaptation of Jane Casey’s legal thriller novel The Killing Kind.