While no film adaptation of a book can be perfect, I rate GWTW right up there with Fiddler on the Roof and the original 1921 version of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as one of the best. It retains most of the important storylines and characters, doesn’t leave gaping holes where elements were left out, and stays true to the spirit of the story.
Since the book is over 1,000 pages long (a length more than justified by the epic scope), naturally everything couldn’t be squeezed into even a very long film. Among the aspects left out or handled differently:
1. Scarlett has three kids, not just one. In the book, she has one child by each of her husbands. Her firstborn is Wade Hampton Hamilton, born in early 1862, and her second child is Ella Lorena Kennedy. Bonnie is her third child. Alexandra Ripley’s horrible sequel Scarlett gives her a fourth child, Cat. The less said about that, the better!
2. Scarlett’s sister Suellen marries Will Benteen, a legless veteran who works at Tara after the war, and has a child, Susie, with him.
3. The men are in the KKK, and go out to lynch African–Americans to avenge the attack on Scarlett in Shantytown. Prior, Rhett also matter-of-factly admits he lynched an African–American for acting “uppity.”
4. Mr. O’Hara’s deadly riding accident happens in the wake of Suellen trying to get him to sign papers proving he’s pro-Yankee, not chasing off Tara’s former overseer. Scarlett also doesn’t witness his death.
5. Scarlett vomits in front of Rhett while riding with him during her second pregnancy.
6. The prelude to the possible marital rape scene is a lot darker and more violent.
7. There’s no rain while Scarlett’s party flees to Atlanta.
8. Scarlett’s character is a lot darker and more complex, and her motivations are more fully explored.
9. Scarlett and Charles marry the day before Ashley and Melanie, not afterwards. It was a huge scandal in that era for couples to marry against the order of their engagements.
10. Rhett’s relationship with brothel madam Belle Watling is a lot more overt.
11. Pork, Mr. O’Hara’s valet and first slave, has a wife, Dilcey.
12. Charles is courting Ashley’s sister Honey before Scarlett turns his head. In the movie, he’s courting Ashley’s sister India, and Honey never appears.
13. Scarlett, not Melanie, offers her wedding ring to the Confederate cause at the Atlanta Bazaar first. She can’t wait to be rid of that unwanted thing!
14. Melanie reads from Les Misérables, not David Copperfield, the night of the raid on Shantytown.
15. Scarlett’s realisation that she loved a fantasy of Ashley instead of the man himself is less rushed.
16. A LOT of racist content, including many uses of the N-word in the narrative (not just dialogue).
17. Will Benteen, not Mammy. holds Scarlett back from running to welcome Ashley home after the war.
18. Scarlett has an ex-con driver named Archie. He later reappears when he catches Scarlett and Ashley innocuously embracing at the sawmill, with disastrous results.
19. Scarlett already visited Atlanta prior to moving there.
20. Bonnie’s fear of the dark was created by Mammy, who told her “ghosts and buggerboos” lurk in the dark and might hurt her.
21. Rhett’s final words are “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” No “frankly” in there.
22. Several age-gap relationships which were quite unusual for the era, even among the upper-class. Scarlett’s parents are 28 years apart; Scarlett and Rhett are 16 and 33 when they meet; Frank Kennedy is 30 years older than Suellen, the original object of his affections, and 28 years older than Scarlett.
While some of these alterations take away important layers and details which make the book so great, it was necessary to condense this doorstopper. I also 100% agree with the decision to significantly tone down the racist aspects and not mention ages. Very few book to screen adaptations are this fantastic.