Why Isn't This A Film? - Winesburg, Ohio

What have we got here then?

Winesburg, Ohio is a novella by American writer Sherwood Anderson. Published in 1919 it was met with antipathy from the general public but received decent critical acclaim. It is now regarded as an American classic.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Focusing on the titular small town, Winesburg, Ohio is a collection of inter-related short stories, each focusing on a different inhabitant. Loosely chronological but skipping backwards and forwards to detail townsfolk's pasts and futures, Anderson examines the typical lives and loves of small town America.

Interesting. Is there something more?

In order to keep a constant narrative thread between the tales, Anderson provides us with local journalist George Willard, who appears in most of the stories and acts as a nominal protagonist in many of them.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

Anderson's stories provide really well-written slices of everyday life in a small town where everyone has some sense of community but not necessarily the same sense of self. His characters are varied and well created and the book breezes by in just over a hundred pages, having created a tangible world and several memorable stories.


Whilst the book is worthy of respect and provides a fair amount of enjoyment, there's not a lot to really fall in love with here. Characters come and go extremely quickly, many of them never to return, and the large cast sometimes feel too similar in Anderson's bare prose. Whilst some moments prove memorable, too many are too mundane to provide excitement and whilst this forms part of Anderson's point about small town living, it doesn't make for compelling literature.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

The novel was adapted into a little-seen TV movie in 1973 and has more recently been re-filmed but not distributed by Ohio University. Period pieces largely do fairly well at the box office and are relatively cheap to produce meaning that works like this are always fairly likely to be picked up at some point or another.

But who'd star in it?

The cast of characters in Anderson's novel could really be adapted and shaped in any way a specific director wished making it difficult to pick and choose roles to focus on here. George Willard, his mother and father would be necessary as would, probably, Kate Swift, who becomes a key character in a couple of stories. George would need to be someone relatively young but with plenty of depth making a post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe a sound choice. Susan Sarandon would be a really good choice for his slightly neurotic mother and I wouldn't mind seeing Robert Downey Jr. taking on a more straight dramatic role and his politically obsessed father. Kate Swift, who needs to be just older than George, would perhaps fit into Gemma Arterton's career development.

Sticking with the tangible English bias: a role could surely be found for Jack Davenport, who excels in period stuff and deserves a big on-screen break in a larger role than Norrington from Pirates Of The Caribbean.

Will it be any good?

There's no reason to suggest that it wouldn't be. A screenwriter would have to work Anderson's loose stories into a tighter narrative, improving the author's work for a more coherent story-driven outing on the screen but this shouldn't prove too difficult and may produce a very tidy period piece.

Anything else I should know about it?

Anderson wrote fairly extensively throughout the twenties and thirties and, although Winesburg, Ohio is considered his best work, Poor White and Many Marriages are also considered to be successes.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. I read this a few years ago and liked it - I love taking the top off a small town and peering into all the lives within (uh, fictionally, that is...). I could see this coming off frustrating and self-important on film; the short form is often able to deliver more on page than onscreen. That said, if done right, it could be fascinating. Makes me think of Satantango which is kind of Winesburg, Ohio on Hungarian acid.

  2. I think the thing with this is that, like a lot of material, a really visionary director could do a lot with it. There's definitely a nicely structured drama here to play around with and I imagine the end could be made quite poignant. As you say though, in the wrong hands it could easily be a self-important mess!

    Will have to see if I can get hold of Satantango - cheers for pointing that one out!

  3. I really want this to be made into a mini-epic, for some reason...it's just so fatalistcally subtle, and some of the characters are so dreary and hopeless, you at least want them to get Magnolia-brand misery, the kind that's blown into something beautifully grotesque. Or whatever.

  4. If it is done like that then I think you're right - it could be a MAGNOLIA-esque epic with the type of grotesques that displays. The thing that worries me is that those sort of films (successful multi-character dramas) come along all too rarely and if this is boiled down to a ninety-minute film about George Willared it could be, well... a touch boring.

  5. The book has been experimentally adapted as "Chicago Heights" and was recently reviewed by Roger Ebert and others.

  6. Cheers for that Anon! I'll look into that one.