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Print to Projector: The Book of Dave

By  · Published on March 27th, 2010

As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:

The Book of Dave

by Will Self

“Carl Devush, spindle-shanked, bleach-blond, lampburnt, twelve years old, kicked up buff puffs of sand with his bare feet as he scampered along the path from the manor.”


Several hundred years in the future after a catastrophic flood, a protracted society has based its religion and governmental authority on a book discovered in the ground and canonized – a book that prescribes that children split time between mummies and daddies, a book that is argued over, but a book who is the basis for complete control on the road to New London. Back in the present, a disgruntled, divorced cab driver in London scribbles a raging text prescribing how he thinks the world should work, gets it printed on metal, and buries it in hopes that his son will find it and know his father.


Ingenious satire, Self has melted down commentary on society, government, and family into ink and splayed it out onto the page with the grace of a ballerina on Oxycontin. Even if some of the dialog is difficult to slog through because it’s in a phonetic Cockney-style format, the story being delivered is a wonder to behold.

Beyond the high art of it, the story is truly compelling. It takes some investment – discovering a complex society with its own language and culture – but the return on that investment is fascinating. Self did so much work to carefully craft every aspect of that world, and that dedication comes through amidst flowing, fantastic prose.

Still, the reason the book works so well is because you can see yourself in that world. The people are living in an alien future, but they are still unbearably human.

On the flip side, the story of Dave the cab driver (and future deity) takes out your heart, drags it through a London gutter and shoves it right back in your chest. It tackles a story that’s not often told about a man slowly driven insane by the world around him – a world that he feels constantly at war with. He loves driving his cab, but it’s killing him. He loves his son, but he’s abusive and doesn’t know where to place his anger. Plus, divorce is a dirty business, and it’s not often delved into as realistically as it is here.

Potential Problems

There are a whole host of them. The book is precariously structured, oscillating between the future and the present with each alternating chapter, ping-ponging between time periods and story lines. This would be incredibly difficult to pull off on the screen. although it could be sidestepped by dividing the stories differently.

Beyond that, it might need subtitles considering just how thick the dialect is. Why can’t the Brits just speak English? A great question.

Also, there are creatures in the future (that are never fully explained) that appear to be human hybrids called Motos. They speak and think with the mind of 2 year olds, but they apparently look like pig/man/forest creatures of some sort. Bringing them to life would be a sight to behold but wouldn’t come easy.

Other than that, there’s little difficulty in the adaptation – but the structure really is a large enough hurdle on its own.

The Pitch

Ware2 Guv? To Nu London:


There is a desperate need here for juggling words, characters, and stories that only belongs to a very specific talent. There are a lot of great writers out there, but even some of the best don’t quite know what to do with so much information. One who does, is John August. He’s got the comic knack and the restraint needed to keep what might be an irresistible amount of bad exposition out of the world of the future. Plus, he can weave together all the strands together into something that will resemble sense. Or as much sense as one can make from it.


As for the man at the helm, there seems to be only one mind that can blend the fantastical with the dark with the biting with the beautiful. That mind, as proven especially by Brazil, is the great Terry Gilliam.


Who will be brave enough to chance the Gilliam curse?

The Present

Brendan Gleeson as Dave Rudman: I’ll be honest. If John Goodman were younger and British, he’d be perfect for the role, but as it stands, there’s no one better to mix lovable and insane like Brendan Gleeson. Although he’s not British either (he’s Irish), blending his work as Mad Eye Moody and Ken from In Bruges would be just right for the mentally troubled cab driver who sparks a misogyny-based religion in the future.

Kate Ashfield as Michelle: The catalyst for the whole damned thing (like all women), she is every emotion all at once. She is salty and alluring, impulsive and energetic – she grows to regret her decisions and fluctuates between escaping them and owning them. It’s a shame that Kate Ashfield hasn’t been seen more in the U.S. after Shaun of the Dead, and she would give a great performance here.

Clive Owen as Cal Devenish: Cal is a difficult character to pin down because he’s not exactly a major part of the story. On the one hand, he is a stereotypical step-father who is too engrossed in work (which Owen could elevate), and on the other he’s a tragic figure the despises Dave because of the traits that both men share (which Owen could really work with). He’s wealthy and passively cruel – a perfect blend as a challenge for Owen.

The Future

Sean Bean as Symun Devush: Devush is an enigmatic figure who breaks out on his own, sees himself imprisoned and then goes through the impossible transformation from intelligent risk-taker to broken man (think Winston after the rat trap in 1984). It’s the kind of supporting role that Bean would excel at and give him a chance to show his range.

Colin Firth as Antone Bom: Antone is the truest father figure of the entire story – a wise man, but also a man of action. Whoever plays him needs to blend forcefulness with a sense of protection over Carl and the audience as the dangerous trek into the heart of London begins.

Jamie Bell as Carl Devush: Carl is the son of the prophet who originally stirs up the controversial movement that works against the government’s view of Davinity. His character is the main hero who has to face trials and tribulations, subvert authority, and brave the wilderness in order to bring about the change that will help his people. Bell is a little older than Carl is in the book, but not by enough that it would matter. Plus, he’s a talented actor that would bring a lot to the role.

Who Owns It:

I honestly have no idea. Even with my considerable researching skills, I couldn’t find any information on the film rights meaning that someone owns it, but it hasn’t been publicized, or Self still has the rights himself and no one has yet purchased them.


This is one of those novels where 99 times out of 100, the movie would be an absolute mess. But that one time, if everything came together perfectly, it would stay with people in a profound way. It has that potential, and the best movie-making talent owes it to the good people of Earth to make an honest go at it.

Editor’s Note: As with the previous entry on Superman: Red Son, this entry could not have been done without the literary guidance of Ryan Walters who introduced me to the novel and was foolish enough to let me borrow it.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.