January 16, 2021
Shape-shifting Tom Ripley, ill-met strangers on a train… cinema’s love affair with Highsmith’s thrillers was immediate, and shows no signs of cooling off
Patricia Highsmith at 100: the best film adaptations
Graham Greene famously declared Patricia Highsmith “the poet of apprehension” in the foreword to her 1970 short story collection Eleven. There’s no better way to describe the American writer, whose psychological thrillers meld gliding literary cool with a jangling morass of nerves – a combination, in turn, that film-makers have been trying to translate since the middle of the last century. This coming Tuesday marks the centenary of Highsmith’s birth, and her allure to screenwriters remains undimmed in 2021. A glossy new Ben Affleck-starring film of her novel Deep Water, the first film from Adrian Lyne in 19 years, is scheduled for August, while a TV version of Ripley, starring Andrew Scott as her most adaptable character, is in the pipeline.
They’ll join a large and variable roster of Highsmith screen adaptations, ranging from cast-iron classics to mouldering B-movies. It’s no easy subgenre to enter, the bar having been set impossibly high right off the bat – by Alfred Hitchcock, no less, whose perfectly sinuous film of Highsmith’s debut novel, Strangers on a Train (on Amazon Prime), released just a year after the book’s 1950 publication, surely played some part in cementing her own elegantly nasty reputation. A murder-swapping mystery shot in woodcut-sharp monochrome, it still finds room in its skin-tight plotting for hovering waves of queer energy.
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