If Big Little Lies has taught us anything, it's that women of all ages can be serious acting powerhouses. Oh, and that tiny details can come back to haunt you. HBO made some changes when they brought Liane Moriarty's best-seller to the small screen, and they could have changed *everything*. We did some digging to find the biggest differences between the Big Little Lies book and its television adaptation because we deserve some big little truths.
It was probably easier to get these powerhouse actresses in one place by filming Big Little Lies in California, but the original source material imagined this story in an entirely different hemisphere. The Big Little Lies novel is set in Australia, author Liane Moriarty’s home, while the American television show decided to relocate the action a little closer to home. Thankfully, that means we didn’t have to hear the actresses try their hands at accents from Down Under, although ironically, leading lady Nicole Kidman grew up in Sydney. The television series films in its Monterey setting and in the Malibu neighborhood of Los Angeles.
We’re glad that Reese Witherspoon was given more to do as Madeline Mackenzie than her literary counterpart, but the character’s story arc was drastically changed when adapting Big Little Lies for the small screen. Madeline never cheats on Adam Scott’s Ed with her Avenue Q director, and she never discusses her affair with Abigail because the affair *never existed*. Strangely enough, the novel did include two notable affairs that weren’t brought into season one: both Renata and Harper’s husbands were sleeping with Renata’s French nanny. This comes to a head at trivia night, where a brawl breaks out and diverts attention from the evening’s murder.
Shailene Woodley’s Jane Chapman honestly goes through more than her fair share of trauma on the Big Little Lies television series, but HBO left out a major subplot from the novel. Jane developed an eating disorder after her assault due to verbal attacks from Perry, who called her a “fat, ugly little girl.” The show never mentions Jane’s newly discovered body dysmorphia, but it does cast her constant exercising in an entirely new light. Jane is often seen going on runs or exercising, which in the book was a direct result of her body insecurities and Perry’s abuse. By leaving in her fitness habits without actually relaying *why* she’s become so focused on them, Big Little Lies hints at something that could have been fleshed out more fully.
On a lighter-hearted note (a rare occurrence in the world of Big Little Lies), there are no dirty puppet shows in Liane Moriarty’s novel. While Madeline is a part-time employee of the theatre in the original novel, the book specifies that the theatre is presenting King Lear. There is no mention of Avenue Q, most likely because the book didn’t try to force an affair between Madeline and the director, Joseph. We have to say, we would rather the time that was taken discussing puppetry and how "everyone's a little bit racist" be rerouted to further explore Jane's disordered eating.
The Big Little Lies HBO series prioritizes the relationship between Madeline and Jane to the detriment of Celeste and Jane’s relationship in the novels. Madeline and Jane are still given their moments in the source material, but Celeste also forges a deep bond with the young mother centered around fitness walks (or, on the television series, picturesque runs on the beach). Jane still idolizes Celeste (as we all do), but she also opens up to the seemingly-perfect big sister figure in a way that was never replicated on the show.
All hail Darby Camp, the eleven-year-old who held her own next to the most formidable women in acting before she even hit double digits. It would be a crime to take any time away from her portrayal of the sassy, music-loving Chloe Mackenzie, so we’re not too upset that HBO removed Madeline’s second child, Fred, from the show. Big Little Lies is all about giving strong women a time to shine (and some meatier roles for a change), and that spirit reigns supreme even for the series’s youngest stars.
Tom and Jane’s relationship is more developed in Liane’s book *because* Jane presumed that Tom was gay. In both adaptations, Jane thinks that Tom is gay because of rumor Madeline told her, but in the novel, that detail allows Jane to open up to him more fully than she can to other men after her assault. Jane discovering that Tom is straight during Trivia Night is *much* more satisfying in the book. You may, in fact, chuckle. Instead, Tom's character is significantly less important on the HBO series, and he hasn't even made an appearance during season two.
This one is a doozy. In the book, Jane saw and heard her attacker. She was still under the impression his name was “Saxon Banks,” but if she had laid eyes on Perry before the story’s dramatic climax or ever heard his voice, she would have immediately recognized him as her rapist. Trying to keep Perry’s reveal a secret is, most likely, why they removed Jane’s eating disorder because the audience would have easily figured out his identity from the sound of his voice. Keeping the mystery alive for HBO's loyal viewers meant that major pieces of Jane's assault had to be changed.
The subplot involving an interior designer is an HBO invention because in the novel, Celeste immediately recognized the name “Saxon Banks” as Perry’s cousin, as does Madeline, and they make the conscious decision to keep that information from Jane. Perry had been using his cousin’s name as an alias whenever he knew he was going to get into some trouble ever since he was a child, but on-screen, hearing that a main character was mysteriously related to Jane’s attacker would have been a dead giveaway for the eventual dramatic reveal.
Abigail’s virginity auction has a lot of layers to it. For one thing, despite her strange methods, homegirl has a point. In the novel, instead of backing down after a conversation with Madeline, Abigail’s website does launch according to plan. It’s only after an angel donor pledges $100,000 to Amnesty International in exchange for the website being taken down that Abigail finally relents. It’s heavily implied that Madeline thinks Celeste was the mystery donor, using Perry’s money for yet another charitable donation. This version of events allows Abigail to stand strong in her convictions without having to actually delve deeper into what it would mean for this teenage girl to auction off her first time to some creep on the internet.
Celeste definitely needs therapy. Every character on Big Little Lies needs therapy. Actually, everyone in the world, real or fictional, could probably benefit from therapy. Perry definitely should have seen a shrink (or twelve), but in the book, Perry never accompanies his wife to see the good doctor. After Perry attends Celeste’s first session, never to return, the remaining appointments are basically the same in the book and the series. We love accurate adaptations, but we also would love to see every single character find their way to the fainting couch before the series is through for their own sakes.
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/ HBO
We’re thrilled that HBO realized we *needed* to see Nicole, Reese, and Shailene all dressed as Holly Golightly, but Trivia Night in Liane’s original book was never described in real time. The events of the evening took place off-screen, or whatever the literary version of that concept is, which would have been way less fun for viewers at home. The murder mystery theme was really brought home through the backdrop of this glittering affair and, honestly, it just looked cool. There's no harm in doing something just for the aesthetic every one and a while, especially if it heightens everything on this level.
Oh, Bonnie, how HBO has wronged you. Zoë Kravitz’s role was severely underwritten, especially compared to the white women’s stories, and by removing her motive to commit manslaughter, the narrative *and* the character were both done a disservice. While fans can argue that this was changed in order to hammer home themes of sisterhood, Bonnie’s original inspiration to become involved in the fray was her own experiences hiding from an abusive father during her childhood. It's directly correlated to the argument at hand regarding Perry's treatment of Celeste in front of their son, and the dramatic twist is more of a split-second decision and less of an actual accident.
Another big change on the series’s season one climax, Bonnie pushes Perry over a balcony as he’s arguing with Celeste. This meant that many of the husbands, including Ed and Nathan, witness the murder and are brought into a subplot where Nathan wants to cover for Bonnie and Ed wants to go to the police. Ed ultimately decides to help keep Bonnie’s secret, but he’s not thrilled with Madeline for convincing him to lie. On the show, Bonnie accidentally pushes Perry down the stairs as one of many women who banded together as sisters to defend Celeste from her husband.
We didn’t need Madeline’s current and former husbands to face off as much as they did on the HBO series. Actually, we didn’t need them to have any beef at all, and in the novels, they mostly stay out of each other’s ways. Elle theorizes that the television adaptation included so many annoying standoffs between the men in order to create alternate candidates for the murder, the heightening thrills and mysterious twist ending being the impetus for many of the book-to-television discrepancies. We love Adam Scott and we’re cool with James Tupper, but we liked it better when they also loved each other.
They changed everything else about Bonnie’s final stand, showrunners might as well just completely scrap her original ending, too. Bonnie winds up totally fine in the novels. Even though the women lie to protect her in both the novel and on the television series, Book Bonnie decides to turn herself into the police. She’s assigned community service instead of jail time, because even the police probably realized Bonnie was doing their jobs for them by getting rid of that abusive tw*t. Because the killing was more of a group effort on the show, there was no such storyline needed. We’ve heard rumors that Big Little Lies 2 is going to make up for getting rid of so much Bonnie drama by adding something special for her in the new season.
Meryl Streep blessed our television screens because Mary Louise wanted to know what exactly happened to her son. We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume that “bad parenting” wasn’t the answer she’s looking for. Because the book ends alongside season one with only the immediate consequences of Perry’s death, Mary Louise never needs to come help take care of her grandchildren, and Bonnie’s literary confession answers Mary Louise’s whodunit before she could even buy a plane ticket. Finding a reason to bring Meryl into the Big Little Lies fold is the best off-script surprise HBO could have ever given us.
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Courtesy of HBO
While women have the right to keep their personal tragedies and secrets as close to the vest as they please, we much prefer Liane’s ending for Celeste over HBO’s invention. In the source material, Celeste’s secrets are out and she returns to law as an advocate for domestic violence awareness, even doing some public speaking, while on the show, Celeste’s inner demons are still solidly ~inner~ demons. Allowing Celeste to transform her pain and suffering into hope for other women aligns pretty solidly with HBO's girl-power message, and we hope to see it pop up sometime during season two.
Renata, who? The female antagonist of this story becomes a part of the gang on HBO’s interpretation of Big Little Lies, but she’s a much smaller character in the book. She’s one-dimentional and rude to Jane and her son in both cases, but on the show, she’s given her own problems at home to make her more sympathetic. We wouldn’t have gotten Laura Dern if Renata had stayed the shallow, relatively unimportant character she is on the series, so we’ll take what we can get. In the book, Renata moves to London and apologizes directly to Ziggy for falsely accusing him, but on the series, Laura is here to stay (and only apologizes to Jane).
Ziggy is part of the family, so Celeste does what’s right and handsomely supports her twins’ half-sibling financially. Jane’s money issues are highlighted in the book and on the show, so seeing this resolution to one of the many, many dark clouds always hovering over her head is a welcome relief amongst the madness. This wasn’t included on the show, possibly due to time but more likely in order to fuel Jane’s arc during their second season. Hopefully, Jane gets the financial help she deserves sooner rather than later. And also therapy because, again, all of these characters severely need it.