Why Isn't This A Film? - Foucault's Pendulum

What have we got here then?

Foucault's Pendulum is a novel by Italian philosopher and literary critic Umberto Eco. First published in English in 1989, Eco's book has found critical acclaim with most reviewers and is often referenced as 'the thinking man's DaVinci Code'.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Like Dan Brown's book, Eco's novel is rooted in the mysteries of the occult and the Holy Grail. Eco uses three publishers (Diotallevi, Belbo and Casaubon) who come into almost constant contact with purveyors of occult myth and grail legend to examine links and legends that commonly appear throughout history. The book ends up as part thriller - as the trio find themselves becoming closer and closer to the sometimes ludicrous fancies of grail story writers - and part history - as Eco references text after text to attempt to drag us somewhere near to the 'truth'.

Interesting. Is there something more?

The strong narrative doesn't sacrifice 'plot' for history lesson and the characters themselves lead full lives with Casaubon as our narrator and main focus. The group are simultaneously aided and suspicious of being hindered by a mysterious character called Agliè who Eco hints at being a reincarnation of an ever-living figure called Comte de Saint-Germain, a shadowy chap who increasingly comes to the fore in the group's investigations of the occult.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

Eco has a difficult job in weaving together the historical elements of the texts he draws his source material from and the more fanciful elements of grail mythology with a serious doctrine on the writing process and an adventurous narrative around the three central characters. By and large he succeeds in all of his aims. Casaubon is an accommodating narrator and Eco intersperses the novel with black humour and asides about the character's pasts. The lighter elements of Casaubon and Belbo's love lives are particularly welcome diversions from the book's main concerns and theories.


It's an extremely weighty novel and not for the feint-hearted. There is a lot of theory here and a slight feeling that Eco wants to show off how learned he is and how much he has read on the subjects he covers. The amount of history squeezed into the attractive narrative is astounding and will bore as many as it thrills. It's exciting but, when all is said and done, it's also a super-intellectual history lesson masquerading as a thriller. Whether it should or shouldn't apologise for that will depend on the individual reader.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Way back when, Stanley Kubrick made an attempt to speak to Eco about adapting his work but was rebuffed by an intermediary who had taken Eco's assertion that he didn't want to see his work adapted ever again rather literally (Eco was displeased with Jean-Jacques Annaud's adaptation of The Name Of The Rose). As the story is told by Empire, Eco tried to repair the situation but Kubrick had moved on to other projects. According to the magazine, Eco's story has been optioned and is awaiting development but no current details have reached the surface of either IMDb or any other major publication. Like a lot of texts, this could sit around for a while waiting for someone with enough vision to take on Eco's weighty compendium.

But who'd star in it?

Assuming that the a Hollywood adaptation would attempt to mix mainstream appeal with Italian and European flair then the rising Violante Placido (recently Clooney's other half in The American) must be a shoe-in for Belbo's love interest, Lorenza Pellegrini. Alessandro Nivola is from Italian stock and his brilliant role in Coco Before Chanel has convinced me that he can take a crack at just about anything - he'd fit Belbo or Casaubon. Assuming Nivola takes Belbo then it would be nice to see Sam Riley moving into more mainstream Hollywood material having been excellent in Control and lauded in Brighton Rock - he'd be a worthy Casaubon to Nivola's Belbo and I can see the two having a great dynamic. It's impossible to mention a European-set film without also thinking of Vincent Cassel and the Frenchman could take on either Belbo or Diotallevi (who's role is small but could be written up).

Agliè is difficult: he must at once be welcoming, a consummate gentlemen, but also laced with a little threat and mystery. Jean Reno has rather stopped doing serious stuff of late but he ticks all the boxes and would provide a decent foe for the Nivola/Riley axis whilst Giancarlo Giannini (Casino Royale) would add another reputable Italian name to the cast list and could either fill the role of policeman De Angelis, eccentric occultist Colonel Ardenti or publisher Mr. Garamond. Yaya DaCosta, who had a small but well-played role in The Kids Are All Right, would be great as Amparo, an early love of Casaubon's and a character with an important part to play in introducing the occult side of the plot.

Will it be any good?

The material is so dense it would be difficult to adapt without losing some of Eco's message or having a film that runs to three hours plus. Like any film, a script with a unique vision which cuts Eco's work where appropriate whilst losing none of the thrills of the novel, would be gold dust. The above 'dream' cast would almost guarantee a certain amount of quality and in a post-The Da Vinci Code world, it wouldn't surprise me if people were hungry for something more substantial in their occult and grail legend films.

Anything else I should know about it?

Like Dan Brown's book, a lot of Eco's locations and topical material are drawn from fact, including the titular Foucault Pendulum, which proves the rotation of the Earth and can be read about here.

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. Not sure exactly when this happened, but Andrew Upton (husband of Cate Blanchett) wrote the screenplay for FineLine (see http://unitedagents.co.uk/andrew-upton for confirmation that he was at least working on it). I know he finished it sometime around 2007 (if memory serves). But no word since....

    1. How incredibly interesting. So, by all the accounts on that page, a screenplay for it does exist... somewhere. Would desperately love to get my hands on that, this is a fascinating novel and a film-maker with vision could do amazing things with it. Thank you kindly for the pointer.