Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale and, bottom, a scene from Wolf Hall. Picture: Supplied
Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale and, bottom, a scene from Wolf Hall. Picture: Supplied

Aidan Turner strides naked to the waist from the Cornish surf as Ross Poldark, and Benedict Cumberbatch lies shivering in a bath during a drugs binge in Patrick Melrose.

And if your favourite TV moment isn’t among those scenes, how about David Morrissey as a detective torn between parallel realities in The City And The City, or Elisabeth Moss in the visually stunning, upsetting fantasy The Handmaid’s Tale?

All these triumphs have one factor in common: they were adapted from novels. More than ever, TV bosses are turning to the bookshelf for original stories.

Great literature has long been an inspiration, from The Forsyte Saga in 1967 to War And Peace two years ago. In any list of top telly dramas, I, Claudius (1976), Brideshead Revisited (1981), The Jewel In The Crown (1984) and Wolf Hall (2015) will be acclaimed and all began as novels.

With a bookcase full of new adaptations reaching our screens in the next few months, one question remains: should you read the novels now, or wait until you’ve watched the serial? My answer: read the book, then watch the box but either way, start here with our literary lowdown.

Queen of Schemers

What is it? Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848).

What’s the story? Brave, heartless and shamelessly on the make, Becky is determined to leave her disreputable past behind and climb to the top of aristocratic society. Her best friend Amelia is a golden child and a terrible judge of character. And they both desire the same dashing soldier.

Acclaimed by many as the greatest book in all English literature, this story has sex, satire, spectacle and selfish betrayals galore. It’s like War And Peace, yet far funnier.

Ghostly Gothic

What is it? The Haunting Of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959), is on Netflix from October 31.

What’s the story? When a team of paranormal investigators descends on a gloomy mansion, they are hoping to discover scientific proof of the existence of the spirit world. Instead, they find the house seems to feed off their own psyches and secrets. This is a US classic and was filmed in both 1963 and 1999. Director Mike Flanagan is masterminding this updated TV version.

A Spy In Too Deep

What is it? The Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carre (1983), airs next year.

What’s the story? Although it’s far less known than the spy master’s biggest sellers such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, this multi-layered novel about Charlie, a left-wing English actress recruited by Israel to snare a Palestinian terrorist, has been hailed by top thriller writers (including John Grisham) as the perfect espionage novel. Florence Pugh (Cordelia in the 2018 BBC production of King Lear) takes the role.

Alien Invasion

What is it? The War Of The Worlds, by HG Wells (1897).

What’s the story? The chances of anything coming from Mars are well, you know the rest. The seminal sci-fi tale from the end of the Victorian era spawned an Orson Welles radio play (that reputedly terrified America to a standstill in 1938), a hit album and a Steven Spielberg movie in 2005, starring Tom Cruise. This version stays close to the original, set in Edwardian London as aliens invade.

Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson co-stars with Rupert Graves and Robert Carlyle.

Run, Rabbits, Run

What is it? Watership Down, by Richard Adams (1972), airs late this year on Netflix.

What’s the story? This TV remake stars James McAvoy as the voice of Hazel, the brave young rabbit who leads his friends and family to a new home after their warren is bulldozed. Olivia Colman, John Boyega and Ben Kingsley also feature.

Magical Mysteries

What is it? His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman (1995).

What’s the story? A tale of mythical creatures and parallel universes, partly set in Oxford, and another adaptation to star McAvoy, this time as Lord Asriel, father of the heroine Lyra (Dafne Keen). A film version was made in 2007 with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, but it failed to capture the magic of the best-selling trilogy.

Murder Most Foul

What is it? The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie (1936)

What’s the story? American actor John Malkovich joins the roster of those to play the fabled detective Hercule Poirot but early photographs reveal a surprise: instead of the famous waxed moustache, Malkovich sports a neat goatee.

Rupert Grint, Andrew Buchan and Tara Fitzgerald join the cast in this story of a serial killer who picks his victims alphabetically and leaves a copy of the ABC Railway Guide beside each corpse.

A Darcy Dalliance

What is it? Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813).

What’s the story? It is a truth universally acknowledged that viewers can never have too much of Mr Darcy. Millions of fans still get the flutters at the thought of Colin Firth in the 1995 adaptation.

The producers, Mammoth Screen, have yet to announce the cast for the latest remake, but scriptwriter Nina Raine promises this will be unlike any previous version. 

Daily Mail