The finest French plays adapted for film

  • May 17, 2021
  • Parisian theatre
  • Eléonore Duizabo

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, you’ve probably heard of The Dinner Game, What’s in a name? and La Cage aux Folles. But did you know that these films are all adaptations of famous French plays? Discover ten stars of the French theatre that have since been adapted for the screen…

©Legende Films / Gaumont

Edmond - based on the play of the same name, by Alexis Michalik

After its triumphant success at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, Alexis Michalik adapted his play Edmond for the cinema. It’s 2016 and the curtain has just gone up on playwright Alex Michalik’s third production: Edmond. It will only take a few months for the play to become a must-see, with the whole of Paris queuing to see it! By 2017, Edmond had won a whopping 5 Molière Awards. Edmond tells the story of the young Edmond Rostand, who faces a dilemma: he just promised the great actor Constant Coquelin a literary masterpiece, despite not having written anything for a whole two years. The young playwright has three weeks to write a play for which he has only the title: Cyrano de Bergerac...
Edmond was first adapted into a comic strip before Michalik decided to aim even higher and try his own hand at adapting his story for the big screen. That’s right: initially, he had wanted to make Edmond straight into a film, but he ended up back in his stomping ground at the theatre after not finding a suitable director. He called on one of his favourite actors, Thomas Solivéres, to play the lead role alongside a cast including Ludivine Sagnier, Tom Leeb, Olivier Gourmet, Lucie Boujenah and Clémentine Célarié. As expected, the film was a success and delighted both press and audiences. You can discover the show on stage at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal as well as in its comic book and movie forms!

©Thomas Petri - Wikimedia

The Father – based on the play Le Père, by Florian Zeller

French playwright Florian Zeller has just won his very first Oscar, for his film The Father! But even before winning the world’s favourite golden statuette, Florian Zeller had already won literary prizes for his novels and plays. Over 15 years, Florian Zeller penned a grand total of 10 plays, all of which garnered critical acclaim. His plays The Truth, The Father and The Son were soon staged in England and even featured Isabelle Huppert in The Mother in New York. The reviews from the critics are unanimous: Florian Zeller is one of the greatest writers of our time. And for good reason: no one can write plays as poignant and breath-taking as Florian Zeller. It seemed obvious, then, that his play The Father should be adapted into a film. Well aware of the playwright’s impeccable reputation, renowned actor Anthony Hopkins immediately agreed to play the lead role, and was joined by Olivia Colman and Rufus Sewell.
The plot follows 80-year-old Andre (named Anthony in the film), whose memory is failing him, and who adamantly refuses the caregivers that his daughter imposes on him. The octogenarian feels his world slowly slipping away as he clings to what he does know, unaware that he is living his last moments of lucidity. This stunningly written, desperately moving story will be released in May 2021, adapted by Florian Zeller himself.
The Father is the first play in a trilogy also including The Son and The Mother. And we’ve got some good news: The Son too is going to be adapted into a film. Once again, the crème de la crème of Hollywood are already on board: Laura Dern and Hugh Jackman will play the lead roles. They’ll carry the flame of French theatre, and of Florian Zeller’s genius, all around the world.

©Bernard Richebé

What’s in a Name? – based on the award-winning play Le Prénom (Hello, My Name Is)

Before the 2012 cult film, there was a play! In 2010, playwrights Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte presented their play Hello My Name Is (Le Prénom) at our favourite Théâtre Édouard VII in Paris. The play was such a triumph that it was brought back in 2018. Who could resist this perfectly crafted comedy with its fiery one-liners? The play follows the story of Pierre, a forty-year-old father-to-be. After a long day, he is looking forward to an evening with his family and friends. But the evening turns into a nightmare when Pierre reveals that he wants to call his son Adolf. Tongues are soon wagging and the evening descends into mayhem!
Following the success of the play, the two playwrights decided to adapt their play for the cinema, a decision for which they deserve nothing but applause. The film, released in 2012, became a huge hit, starring actors Valérie Benguigui and Guillaume de Tonquédec. They even won Césars for the roles they had inaugurated on stage two years earlier!
With more than 6 million tickets sold, Le Prénom is a must-see classic of French comedy. While you wait to see it on stage, catch the film – What’s in a name? in English – and laugh until your sides hurt!

Cyrano de Bergerac – based on the legendary play by Edmond Rostand

Yes, it’s really true: behind the film Cyrano de Bergerac lies Edmond Rostand's most legendary play, Cyrano de Bergerac. When Edmond Rostand had his play performed for the first time in 1897 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint Martin, he was convinced that it would be a failure. (If you want to know everything about the creation of Cyrano de Bergerac, don’t forget to watch Alexis Michalik's play Edmond at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal!) Little did he know that, after watching a performance of the show, the Minister of Finance of the time, Georges Cochery, would pin his own Legion of Honour ribbon on Rostand's chest, telling him "it was only a matter of time". The destiny of the playwright and his play was set. Cyrano de Bergerac went on to become – and remains – one of the greatest plays in French theatrical history.
The play tells the story of Cyrano, a fearless musketeer and fine poet. He’s in love with his cousin Roxane, but he doesn’t dare declare his affection for her for fear she’ll think him far too ugly… who could get past that mountainous nose… Out of love, he agrees to help his friend Christian seduce Roxane instead.
The most famous love triangle in French theatre has inspired a host of different works and been adapted multiple times. The best-known adaptation has got to be Jean-Paul Rappeneau's 1990 film. The eponymous protagonist was reborn on the screen with the help of a young Gérard Depardieu (and a spectacular false nose…). The whole of France rediscovered Rostand's verses and the film received a standing ovation, winning no less than 10 Césars! Cyrano de Bergerac is a timeless play that will never cease to touch the hearts of its audiences. More recently, Jean-Philippe Daguerre directed Cyrano de Bergerac at the Théâtre de Ranelagh. You can't miss this superb play that will soon be back on stages in our favourite Parisian theatre.

©Pierre & Le Loup / Atelier Théâtre Actuel

Farewell Mr Haffman – based on the play by Jean-Phillippe Daguerre

The director and playwright Jean-Philippe Daguerre never disappoints, whether it be with his productions of classical plays or with the contemporary creations of his company Le Grenier de Babouchka. His play Adieu Monsieur Haffmann proved his talents once again, winning four Molières in 2018 and performed in several Parisian theatres! Jean-Philippe Daguerre mixes intimate and historical tragedy in a gripping play where one man must hide to allow another to live on.
Our scene is Paris, 1942: the Jewish jeweller Monsieur Haffmann is forced to go into hiding from the German occupation. He asks his employee, François, to hide him. François accepts, but only on one condition: that Monsieur Haffmann give his wife a child, as he himself is sterile. The jeweller accepts, although this does not please Blanche, François' wife. The situation is further complicated when his jewellery becomes very popular with the Nazi leaders and François invites the German ambassador Otto Betz to dinner. A roaring success onstage, the play’s director Fred Cavayé has now adapted it for the big screen. The movie will star Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche and Sara Giraudeau. Shooting has already started but now without a dose of drama: filmed in the heart of the Montmartre district, the shoot had to be interrupted after the outbreak of the pandemic. For several months, an entire facade of flats was plunged back into the 1940s! That sounds pretty unnerving but it hasn’t put us off the film: Farewell Mr Haffman will finally be released in cinemas on 12 January 2022. It’s bound to be worth the wait. The moving story can also be found on the stage of the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre.

©Emilie Brouchon

The Speech – based on the novel by Fabrice Caro (aka Fabcaro)

Ok fine, so we're cheating a little bit, but we couldn't miss the phenomenon that is The Speech. The novel’s film version, also entitled The Speech and directed by Laurent Tirard, is to be released in June 2021, starring Benjamin Lavernhe, Sara Giraudeau, Kyan Khojandi and Julia Platon. The film is based on the novel Le Discours by Fabcaro, a book which was also adapted for the stage back in 2020! French actor Simon Astier is behind the stage adaptation of Caro’s critically acclaimed novel. Aside from his novel, Fabcaro is best known for his comic strips. The best known, Zaï Zaï Zaï Zaï, is unanimously heralded as hilarious. Le Discours was his first novel, which became a hit in 2018, and was followed two years later by Broadway.
In 200 pages, he tells the story of a forty-year-old man who is a little lost, stuck at a family dinner. The evening gets worse when his brother-in-law asks him to write a speech for his wedding. Between hilarious flashbacks and draft speeches, Fabcaro takes an icy and intimate look at the world through Adrien's eyes. But above all, Fabcaro offers a story that is laugh-out-loud funny. And laughing is exactly what you will do at the play Le Discours, adapted and performed by Simon Astier. Discover Le Discours at the Théâtre Michel from 22 September 2021. An hour and a half of laughter that you simply can't refuse!

Book your tickets for The Speech (Le Discours)

©Gaumont Buena Vista International / Francis Veber / affiche Marc Paufichet

The Dinner Game – based on the play by Francis Veber

A huge hit in France, The Dinner Game has become an absolute classic, with everyone tempted to recite a line or two. It proved such a success that American director Jay Roach just had to make a remake: you might know the film by its American version starring Steve Carell, Dinner for Schmucks. But before it a remake or even an original film, Le Dîner de Cons was a play! In 1993, the curtain went up on Francis Veber’ play Le Dîner de Cons. A roaring success, the show was a permanent fixture onstage for three more years before going on tour. Since then, the play has been performed countless times across Paris. In 1998, the playwright decided to adapt his play for the cinema, still with Villeret in the role of Pignon and Thierry Lhermitte in the role of Brochant.
The story follows Pierre Brochant, who meets every week with friends, on the grounds that each week, they must invite the dumbest person they can find. When Brochant meets François Pignon, who has a passion for building matchbox models, he thinks he has found the perfect match. However, Pignon's blunders turn his evening into a disaster. A huge box office and César success, the film is remembered above all! It is thanks to Francis Veber's play that we still laugh about the hilarious character of François Pignon. When will this cult comedy return to the stage?

©Archives du 7eme Art/Photo12 - AFP

La Cage Aux Folles - based on the play by Jean Poiret

La Cage Aux Folles is a film by Édouard Molinaro, directly inspired by the play by Jean Poiret. After its release in France in 1978, the film was a huge commercial success and became the most seen foreign language film in the US! Its success did not stop there, as the film was adapted into a musical in 1993, featuring the iconic song ‘I Am What I Am’. The film’s sequels, La Cage Aux Folles 2 and 3 followed a few years later.
The play’s worldwide success is understandable given its brilliant plot. It’s set in St Tropez, where Albin and Georges (who becomes Renalto in the film) run a drag queen cabaret in which Albin, alias Zaza, is the star. Their daily life is punctuated by the ups and downs of showbiz and bickering. Georges receives a visit from his son, whom he had from a previous marriage, who announces his marriage to a woman from a well-to-do middle-class family. Albin and Georges concoct a brilliant plan to hide their appearances and transform themselves into model parents... The evening promises to be full of twists and turns!
The story behind La Cage Aux Folles is now known throughout the world thanks to the talents of playwright Jean Poiret. The play was first staged in 1973 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. Jean Poiret himself played the role of Albin opposite Michel Serrault in the role of Georges. It held its throne on the bill at the Palais-Royal for more than five years before moving to the Théâtre des Variétés. Since then, the play has been revived numerous times and continues to be enjoyed all over the world. If you’re unfamiliar with the world, La Cage Aux Folles, you’ll definitely want to read the play by Jean Poiret, watch the movie by Édouard Molinaro and binge listen to the soundtrack of the musical afterwards!

©Studio Canal / Mars Distribution

8 Women – based on Robert Thomas’ play, Huit Femmes

François Ozon's film Eight Women is based on the play Huit Femmes by Robert Thomas, which débuted at the Théâtre Edouard VII in 1961. The play was an undeniable success and even won the Quai des Orfèvres Prize, which celebrates the very best crime novels and dramas in France. Then in 2002, François Ozon adapted this dramatic detective comedy for the big screen... and added a few singing and dancing numbers!
The plot is set in the 1950s in a large bourgeois house where people are preparing to celebrate Christmas. But in the early hours of the morning, the father of the family is found dead, with a knife in his back. The eight women present all have good reason to be found guilty, but only one of them has struck the fatal blow.
In François Ozon's film, eight wonderful French actresses bring to life the characters imagined by Robert Thomas: Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard. Just like a game of Cluedo, each woman is distinguished by a single striking colour or, to be precise, a flower. In this musical whodunnit, songs by three iconic French songstresses are the background to the investigation: the dulcet tones of Sheila, Sylvie Vartan and Dalida carry us ever closer to uncovering the true culprit.

©Jean-Pierre Fizet/Films de Tinacra / Films du Splendid / Archives du 7ème Art

Santa Claus is a Stinker – based on the play of the same name by the Troupe du Splendid

When they hear the word Splendid, most French people will think of the Théâtre du Splendid, an aptly named theatre on the rue Saint Martin. We’ll let you in on some insider knowledge: the theatre is also home to the acclaimed Troupe du Splendid. Created in 1974, this fabulous theatre company is made up of Christian Clavier, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte, Michel Blanc, Josiane Balasko, Marie-Anne Chazel and Bruno Moynot. They rose to fame thanks to the cult French comedy films, French Fried Vacation (Les Bronzés in French). But the troupe’s greatest success has to be Santa Claus is a Stinker, which they devised and performed in 1979. This hilarious comedy play immediately won its audience’s heart and the show even ran at the

Oscar – based on the play by Claude Magnier

Behind Édouard Molinaro's cult film Oscar lies a play by Claude Magnier. Oscar was first performed at the Athénée theatre in 1967, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Pierre Mondy. The hilarious comedy has since been revived many times across the capital, but it was when Louis de Funès took over the lead role that the play really triumphed: it was performed more than 600 times between 1959 and 1972 and Louis de Funès' improvisations only got crazier! It’s said that even the Shah of Iran saw the play several times during a visit to Paris.
When director Édouard Molinaro decided to adapt the play for the cinema, Louis de Funès willingly got back into his favourite role and prepared himself for the big screen. In Oscar, he plays Bertrand Barnier, a rich property developer who has a day from hell. His right-hand man, Christian, blackmails him for a raise to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage before confessing that he has been stealing from him for years. Things get complicated when Christian's mistress turns out not to be the boss's daughter, but is pregnant by her father's former driver, Oscar! With its twists and turns, exchange of suitcases, deception and frantic chase, Oscar is one of the greatest French comedies onstage and on screen.
If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, the play was adapted for yet another film, starring Sylvester Stallone in the lead role. The play has since been revived several times on the stage, most notably in 2011 when the role was rewritten for Amanda Lear and the title changed to Lady Oscar.

©Gaumont /LGM Cinéma, Rectangle Productions

Me, myself and Mum – based on Guillaume Gallienne’s one-man show

Following the success of his autobiographical one-man show, the actor and member of the Comédie Française, Guillaume Gallienne, decided to move it to the big screen. His first film, Me, myself and Mum – released in 2013 – was a triumph, and won five Césars, including four for the actor. So, what was the play that was the inspiration for the feature film? Les Garçons et Guillaume, à table was first shown in 2008 at the Théâtre de l'Ouest Parisien and then at the Théâtre de l'Athénée. In this one-man show, Guillaume Gallienne very skilfully plays all the characters. His talent was rewarded with the Molière for theatrical revelation in 2010.
Les Garçons et Guillaume, à table tells Guillaume Gallienne’s very own story: his childhood, his relationship with his mother – who called him "ma chérie" – his sexuality and his first love. In the film, Guillaume Gallienne plays himself and his mother at all ages. Brimming with humour and intelligence, the film is as funny as it is moving. A must-see for everyone.

©Studio Canal

Gramps is in the Resistance – based on the play by Christian Clavier and Martin Lamotte

Yet again, Jean-Marie Poiré is at the helm of a movie adaptation. He first became known to the general public through his collaborations with the Troupe du Splendid and achieved roaring success once more with his 1983 production of the film Gramps is in the Resistance. The film was an adaptation of the play of the same name – Papy fait de la Résistance in French – by Christian Clavier and Martin Lamotte. The play was first performed at the Théâtre du Splendid in 1981. It wasn't long before the idea of a film came to Christian Clavier, who immediately thought of Poiré.
These great names of the theatre tell the story of the Bourdelle family, who are caught up in the turmoil of the German occupation. Their mansion is requisitioned by the Nazis and the family is forced to live in the basement. The family's son, Guy-Hubert, hidden behind the guise of an effeminate hairdresser, is in fact Super-Resistant, a cape-wearing hero who plots against the Nazis.
When producer Christian Fechner requested a big name to headline the film, Louis de Funès was the obvious choice. As soon as de Funès was on side, the artists set to work adapting their play. But de Funès, who was supposed to play Hitler's half-brother, tragically died at the beginning of the project. The film is dedicated to him because it would not have been made without him. Tragedy aside, the film still has a five-star cast of the greatest French actors: Michel Galabru, Roland Giraud, Martin Lamotte and the Troupe du Splendid, of course.
These great names of the theatre tell the story of the Bourdelle family, who are caught up in the turmoil of the German occupation. Their mansion is requisitioned by the Nazis and the family is forced to live in the basement. But son of the family, Guy-Hubert, hidden behind the guise of an effeminate hairdresser, is in fact Super-Resistant, a cape-wearing hero who plots against the Nazis. This parody of the Occupation was poorly received by critics, and yet the film went on to become a cult classic!
To our great excitement, the play Papy Fait de la Résistance will be back at the Théâtre de Paris very soon. It will feature Serge Postigo, Martin Lamotte, Catherine Jacob amongst many others!

Translated from the French by Anna Livesey