18 book-to-screen adaptations to watch for at TIFF

TIFF 2021 is here! Check out the screen versions of these books at the festival, including adaptations of books by Canadian authors Catherine Hernandez and Miriam Toews.

In 2021, the Toronto International Film Festival features both physical and digital screenings due to pandemic precautions. Check out these films inspired by books this year.

TIFF runs from Sept. 9 to Sept. 18, 2021.

All My Puny Sorrows

Adapted from the Miriam Toews' novel, the film of the same name stars Sarah Gadon (left) and Alison Pill. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

This adaptation of Miriam Toews' beloved novel about two sisters stars Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon. All My Puny Sorrows revolves around tragedy and trauma surrounding the women of the Von Riesen clan: writer Yoli, who's tormented by self-doubt and is going through a tough, protracted divorce — and her sister Elf, a well-known concert pianist whose bouts with depression threaten to consume her.

The novel All My Puny Sorrows  won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2014 and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize the same year.


Scarborough is based on the Catherine Hernandez novel of the same name. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough, based on the celebrated debut novel of the same name, revolves around themes of debt, addiction and economic insecurity through three kids in a low-income neighbourhood who find friendship and community in Scarborough, Ont.

The novel Scarborough was shortlisted for the 2017 Toronto Book Award, the 2018 Trillium Book Award and the 2018 Edmund White Award for debut fiction.


Based on: The novel Dune by Frank Herbert

The anticipated retelling of Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic featuring superpowers, sandworms and class struggle. It is directed by Montreal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård and Zendaya.

Drive My Car

Drive My Car is an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story. (TIFF)

Based on: The short story from Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Adapted from Haruki Murakami's short story, Drive My Car tracks two people who find the courage to face their past and humanity. The film looks at the lasting legacy of loneliness, loss and bereavement.

Tug of War

Tug of War is an adaptation of Adam Shafi's Swahili novel. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel Tug of War by Adam Shafi

Adapted from Adam Shafi's acclaimed historical novel, Tug of War centres on the lives of a young revolutionary and a runaway bride in 1950s Zanzibar. The film adaptation looks at the human struggle for freedoms, colonialism, liberation and romance.

Dear Evan Hansen

Based on: The novel Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson

Dear Evan Hansen is a screen adaptation of a blockbuster musical, which was originally based on a book. It is the story of the titular characters' struggle with social anxiety, grief, identity and the human condition. Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen sees Ben Platt reprise his Broadway role as a socially anxious high school student who gets caught up in a web of deception following the death of a classmate.

The Forgiven

The Forgiven stars Ralph Fiennes (left) and Jessica Chastain. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel The Forgiven by Lawrence Osbourne

With an ensemble cast that features actors Jessica Chastain and Ralph Fiennes, The Forgiven adapts this literary tale of wealth, sin, fate, oppression and privilege set in the Moroccan desert. When a young Moroccan man trying to sell fossils by the roadside is hit by a rich couple's car, it sets of a chain of events with lies, deceit and debauchery.

The Good House

The adaptation of The Good House stars American actors Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel The Good House by Ann Leary

Starring Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline, this adaptation of the Ann Leary novel looks at two ex-lovers who face renewed love and reckoning in the twilight of their lives. The comedy-drama is directed by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky.

The Mad Woman's Ball

Based on: Le bal des folles by Victoria Mas

Set in late 19th-century France, The Mad Women's Ball is a look at mental health and psychiatry through the eyes of the free-spirited protagonist Eugénie Cléry. The film explores women in a world that fears and mistrusts them. 


Based on: The Tale of the Heike, Inu-Oh's Episode by Hideo Furukawa

This adaptation, set in 14th-century Japan, is an animated tale of friendship, magic and legend. It explores a legendary figure in Japanese history during a time when the folk theatre of Sarugaku was moving toward the tradition of Noh.

The Middle Man

Based on: The novel Sluk by Lars Saabye Christensen

Adapted from Lars Saabye Christensen's 2012 novel Sluk, the film The Middle Man is an absurdist and noir look at economic insecurity, tragedy and isolation — and what we often do to find our own humanity. It revolves around a small town in the American midwest that is so economically depressed that it hires a middle man to deliver bad news to people.

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is based on the Graham Swift novel. (TIFF)

Based on: The novella Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Set after the Second World War, Mothering Sunday stars Olivia Colman and Colin Firth as an aging couple who have suffered loss and must find something to live for in a new world through a secret love. It is based on Booker Prize–winning author Graham Swift's eponymous novella.

The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog is directed by Jane Campion. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

Directed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. It is set in 1920s Montana as it looks at two siblings and how life changes when two strangers arrive at their ranch.

The Story of My Wife

Based on: The novel The Story of My Wife by Milán Füst

Set in the 1920s and adapted from the Hungarian poet Milán Füst's book of the same title, The Story of My Wife is based on the legend of the ghost ship the Flying Dutchman and delves into themes of romance, fate and one's place in a changing world. 

Three Floors

Three Floors is based on the novel of the same name. (Alberto Novelli/TIFF)

Based on: The novel Shalosh Qomot by Eshkol Nevo

This complex morality tale involves the complicated lives of residents of a Rome apartment building. The characters' lives connect and collide with each other as they grapple with death, loss, lies, fate and responsibility. 

Compartment No. 6

Compartment No. 6 is based on the novel of the same name. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel Compartment No. 6 by Rosa Liksom

During a long train ride, the lives of two strangers — a Finnish student and a Russian worker — are forever changed in this adaptation of the Rosa Liksom novel. As the journey drags on, truths and prejudices are revealed as it explores identity and social standing. 

Maria Chapdelaine

Maria Chapdelaine is based on the 1913 novel. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hémon

Adapted from the 1913 romance novel of the same name, Maria Chapdelaine is a look at the choices one makes when faced with tragedy. Starring Sara Montpetit as the titular character, the film looks at a young woman in rural Quebec, who is torn between three suitors.

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is based on the novel of the same name. (TIFF)

Based on: The novel Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan

This coming of age story focuses on a fearless martial arts fighter named Ajo and the secrets he hides from society. The romance story is about the love between Ajo and a fellow brawler named Iteung. Featuring a vintage aesthetic and minimalist fight choreography, the film looks at love from an offbeat perspective.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?