ABC recently announced that they are currently developing a new television show based on the popular Victor Hugo novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame—or Notre Dame de Paris. The novel has been adapted into film dozens of times over the years. And now ABC is joining the ranks of those who have attempted to adapt one of Hugo’s most memorable works on film or television.
ABC hasn’t announced much about the new production. We do know, however, that it is being written by Evan Daugherty. Evan Daugherty was the writer behind the financially successful Snow White and the Huntsman film, which was a darker and more adventurous adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale. ABC has also revealed that—at least for now—the show is tentatively titled “Esmeralda” and will tell the story from her point of view. This could mean that ABC intends to focus more on the life of Esmeralda and her love for Phoebus rather than on the overarching story told in the original novel.
Any adaptation of a novel, especially one as detailed as Hugo’s, presents its problems. The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been a particular problem for filmmakers because it has controversial, dark themes that are not always the most appropriate for audiences. In fact, very few adaptations of the novel feature the original ending: Esmeralda is hanged after she refuses Frollo’s promise of “sanctuary” in his arms, Phoebus (who refused to vouch for her) is thrust into an unhappy marriage, Quasimodo kills Frollo in a rage and then sneaks into the tomb where Esmeralda’s body lays and dies holding her in his arms. Most film adaptations avoid most of the carnage, except for the death of Frollo—although even then, he is not always killed by Quasimodo.
Esmeralda’s character is also typically altered in these adaptations. In the books, she is written as a beautiful but naïve, sheltered and shallow woman who sees physical beauty as a manifestation of goodness—in one scene, she even chooses a beautiful vase filled with dead flowers over a simple vase with beautiful blooms, a symbol of her shallow choices. In films, however, she is usually given a grander, selfless personality that is meant to contrast with Frollo’s view of her as an evil seductress or witch.
Which route will ABC go? Only time will tell!