The Girl on the Train has hurtled out of the station, having grossed more than $41 million internationally at the box office already, but for some British critics and fans alike, the film adaptation went off track when producers chose to swap the setting, the suburbs of London, with Upstate New York.
The principal complaint for many was the loss of the grittiness, which they felt was more readily decipherable in the novel by British author Paula Hawkins.
In Hawkins’ novel, the protagonist Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes daily from Ashbury to Euston, London. It is during her drunken daily train journey that she watches and fantasizes about a seemingly-perfect couple (whose trackside home she passes) and their idyllic married life. But in the movie, Rachel boards a train in New York’s suburbs heading to Manhattan. “Relocating the action from London to New York only serves to get more American bums on seats,” writes Stella Papamichael in the Radio Times.
Other critics agreed. “Stopped trains, tepid white wine, sighing commuters … Paula Hawkins’s bestseller captured a very British world,” writes The Guardian‘s feature writer, Stuart Jeffries. “It’s details like this – and the carriage full of sighing passengers – that made Paula Hawkins’ bestseller so appealing: the evocation of an all too familiar world of British disappointment and frustration.”
In his review in The Standard, David Sexton makes a similar point: “One of the genuine merits of Hawkins’ novel is its knowingness about humdrum London commuting (little bottles of chenin blanc from Whistlestop at Euston, Victorian semis with 20-foot gardens backing on to the line),” he writes. “The movie, however, transfers the locale to New York and takes it socially upscale too, moreover upping the alkie stakes by supplying the heroine Rachel with industrial quantities of vodka teated out of a water bottle rather than little stubbies of pre-mixed G&T.”
This same sentiment is shared by Alistair Harkness of The Scotsman who writes, “Another big mistake: Rachel’s train rides have none of the cramped, depressing monotony of daily commuter life in the UK.”
And The Telegraph‘s film critic, Tim Robey, feels that the nuanced detail so familiar to Brits was cut in an attempt to emulate the success of previous book-to-movie adaptations, namely the widely-compared Gone Girl. “Readers of the book were treated to amusingly precise descriptions of Rachel’s daily, boozy transit,” he says in his review. “The film not only ditches these good, shabby details, but shifts the whole business to upstate New York, to give it scenic benefits, and a sexed-up gloss, and – barring the English accent Blunt retains – to associate itself with the cool suburban treacheries of David Fincher’s Gone Girl as often as possible. It’s as if the book has been given a full-body massage en route to the screen, teasing away some of the spinal kinks that actually made it interesting.”
One reason for the transatlantic shift, according to the movie’s American screenwriter Erin Wilson, was the way alcohol is viewed and consumed in the United Kingdom versus in the United States. “It’s more of a drinking culture in England; it’s not as shameful as it is here,” she told British GQ.
She also told EW that setting the film in London “wasn’t even on the table.” DreamWorks bought the book’s film rights in the spring of 2014, before Girl on the Train even came out in the U.S. “The book had not come out [when I was working on the screenplay],” Wilson told EW. “I’ve been down this road enough that sometimes the book isn’t even noticed… Just because it’s really good doesn’t mean [the book] will do well,” she says. “This is an American film, and that was it.”
Perhaps The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries sums up the most prominent complaint best. “Transatlantic crossings wash off the grub and bring up sheen,” he writes. “Americans can’t do dismal quite like the British.”
Read some disgruntled British fans’ outcries below: