Richard Hughes's novel A High Wind in Jamaica has been adapted for stage, screen, and radio. The most influential film adaptation remains the 1965 production starring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn. Even this single sentence highlights one of the most significant differences between the book and the film.
In the film version, the focus is on the adult stars who play the pirate captain and his mate rather than on the children, as is the case in the book. The novel was widely criticized when it was released for treating the children as adult characters, depicting them realistically as they experience and react to violence and sexual advances. Hughes portrays the children as complex and morally ambiguous individuals who are, in some cases, a match for the pirate crew. In the film, the children are reduced to more minor and less complex roles.
Aside from this aspect of the film, A High Wind in Jamaica falls victim to the common, perhaps inevitable, fate of novels made into films. There is no way of translating the thoughtful, philosophical passages, which provide an insight into the characters and their motivations, from page to screen. The novel abounds in passages such as this one:
Possibly a case might be made out that children are not human either: but I should not accept it. Agreed that their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact): but one can, by an effort of will and imagination, think like a child, at least in a partial degree—and even if one’s success is infinitesimal it invalidates the case: while one can no more think like a baby, in the smallest respect, than one can think like a bee. How then can one begin to describe the inside of Laura, where the child-mind lived in the midst of the familiar relics of the baby-mind, like a Fascist in Rome?
It is certainly difficult to describe the mind of Laura in prose, but it is impossible to portray it on screen. The same is true of the complex interior lives of all the children.