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Over on AW, someone recently asked an interesting question: Which movie has the most powerful ending? (My answer, incidentally, was the original Night of the Living Dead.)

That question was fresh in my mind, five minutes ago, as I slipped Circle of Friends into the DVD player and promptly stopped the movie to write a blog post (please note that the rest of this post will contain major spoilers for both the Circle of Friends book and movie – including the endings of each).

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy has placed on my “top five” book list for the better part of a decade. It’s one of two books on that list which I read after watching their film adaptations.

When adapting a full-length novel into a two hour running time, there will always be changes. With Circle of Friends, most of the changes were absolutely necessary. My two favorite supporting characters didn’t get screen time? Tough beans. They didn’t impact the main plot. The three friends have known each other since they were children instead of meeting at university? Makes perfect sense to try and cut all those “getting to know you” song and dance numbers.

But then we come to the ending and it gets a little tricky. If the original ending doesn’t fit the Hollywood mold, is it too big of a risk to justify producing the film? If the boy doesn’t get the girl, does that make it too difficult to market?

In both the film and the book, shy, awkward Benny Hogan falls for handsome Jack Foley. Jack, for a variety of reasons (none of them particularly good), has an affair with Nan, one of Benny’s best friends. In order to make film-Jack more sympathetic (and more appropriate to leading man material), he sleeps with Nan just once . In the book, his affair with Nan is drawn out over several weeks and is partially the result of annoyance that Benny has less time for him in the wake of her father’s death.

In the book, Benny goes through all of the hurt, humiliation, and bewilderment to realize that a life with Jack would have been a life of watching and waiting. She eventually accepts him back into her circle of friends but he’s on the outside –- not close enough that he’ll hurt her again.

In the film, Jack tries to make amends and she eventually forgives him. The ending scene is actually an implied sexual rendezvous (ironically at one of the locations where Jack slept with Nan in the book).

It may seem like a small chance but, for me, the change in the ending alters the central theme of Circle of Friends. The movie is about forgiveness and love—the boy and girl getting together despite the odds. The book is about a young woman discovering herself, learning that she isn’t just good enough for the handsome boy who swept her off her feet, she’s too good.

Then, again, perhaps I just read too much into things. In any rate, the DVD is still waiting. I’m going to settle in for two hours of lush Irish countryside, cute Irish (or fake Irish) boys, and some spectacularly bad hair on the part of Alan Cumming.

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