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Boyd Tonkin: Fitting finale to a saga of delays and disappointments


Salman Rushdie's efforts over 15 years to have Midnight's Children filmed amount to a plot as twisting, and sometimes fantastical, as that of one of his novels.

In the mid-1990s, with the Iranian fatwa still a danger to his life, Rushdie agreed that the BBC should adapt the book; Channel 4 had also expressed interest. After in-house writers failed to please, Rushdie took over the task himself. Pruning the excesses of his storytelling with a ruthlessness no outside adapter could have matched, but also adding new narrative flourishes, he wrote a five-part TV adaptation in a creative burst late in 1996.

India remained politically off-limits as the venue for location filming. Sri Lanka, having initially agreed, withdrew consent after protests from the Muslim community. Following diplomatic stand-offs, Rushdie's enthusiasm, and the BBC's commitment, both came to nothing. The unmade script still languishes on the page.

Yet its approach did guide the directors Tim Supple and Simon Reade when, in 2003, they staged Midnight's Children for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I saw that version and admired its energy and resourcefulness. But, as most reviewers agreed, the show was an anti-climax. Rushdie, always a film buff, writes in a shape-shifting, spell-binding mode that suits screen far more than stage.

If the proposed new adaptation comes to fruition in a style to fit the novel's extravagant invention and subversive humour, this saga of delays and disappointments will at last have a fitting final act.