The Girl on the Train- Book vs. Film

The Girl on the Train (written by Paula Hawkins) is my favourite book. (emphasis on the period). My anxiety means that I have a million thoughts running through my mind all the time, and focusing on what should be leisurely activities such as reading has proven to be a real challenge for me. I enjoy reading but I often find I am distracted by my thoughts, so I usually choose to read books that can easily visually translate themselves into films in my own mind.

The Girl on the Train did just that- a thrilling page-turner that I started reading on a Monday and finished on a Tuesday (I would have finished it faster but I had to work).

I am not going to summarise the book or the novel because I can already see myself rambling on. All I can say is that you should watch it, and watch the film (I enjoyed both)! You are free to read this post of course even if you have not watched or read the film, but it may not make much sense.


I am making a post about the main differences between the book and the film because as much as I enjoyed both, I did find myself reflecting on the differences a lot and how that may effect the impact of the film.


Difference 1: Rachel Watson’s Characterisation

The Book

Rachel  Watson describes herself as a once happily married and attractive woman who is now a divorced alcoholic who has become overweight and unattractive.  She indulges in self-pity and her characterisation evokes her as a lifeless woman whose only hope appears to be her past ‘perfect’ life (which she frequently has flash backs of).

The Movie

Rachel is portrayed Emily Blunt, a very attractive thin actress who did not appear to gain any weight for the film.

Did this change impact the characterisation of Rachel Watson?

No. Emily Blunt portrayed Rachel Watson’s hopelessness, self-pity and desperation exactly as she is portrayed in the book. Emily Blunt’s performance was wonderful, and the fact that she was thin actually made no difference in convincing me that she was Rachel Watson. She was not made to be attractive, and the original overweight characterisation of Rachel is essentially insignificant.


Difference 2: London vs. New York

The Book

Rachel Watson lives in London and takes the train to and from Euston nearly every day.

The Movie 

Rachel Watson lives in New York and takes the train to and from the city nearly every day.

Did the change of setting impact the credibility of the film?

Not really. I’ll admit I was disappointed when I found out that the film was taking place in New York, but this is because I live in London and I am biased towards London. However, it made no difference in the film. I read an article the other day (I’ll have to find it) where I believe it was the director of the film who realised that whether the film was in New York or London made no difference, because London was simply a setting and not a character. I believe that is the most accurate way someone could defend why the change of setting makes no difference. The power in the books comes from the characters lives in their suburban homes and of course, Rachel’s journey on the train and what she sees and feels from watching peoples’homes. Whether that takes place in London or New York makes no difference.


Difference 3: Scott Hipwell’s ‘screen time’ and relationship with Rachel Watson

The Book

Scott Hipwell is heavily featured in the book. The man who Rachel fantasises as being the perfect husband as she stares at him from the train is actually an insecure, possessive, violent, and emotionally abusive man. These characteristics are clearly shown through his treatment of both Megan Hipwell (his wife) and Rachel. Scott ends up sleeping with Rachel and physically assaulting her when he discovers she has been lying about knowing Megan.

The Movie 

Scott Hipwell is portrayed the same way he is characterised in the book but not as obviously. He does not have much screen time, nor is he ever shown sleeping with Rachel (this isn’t insinuated either, they do not sleep together in the film). He does physically assault Rachel in the film, but it is not nearly as dramatic and painful (not that it excuses his behaviour) as it in the book where he even locks her in a room.

Should Scott Hipwell been featured more in the film?

I am finding this question more difficult to answer. I do feel inclined to say that the film did portray Scott’s characteristics in the film in a way that did not need to be visually shown as much as it was described in the book. Should Scott and Rachel have slept together in the film? Maybe…yes. I think it would have shown how truly fucked up things got for Rachel at that point, and perhaps it was necessary to show the assault scene in the film as it was described in the book. It was obvious to me that Scott was all these terrible things in the film but that was because I read the book. For someone who watched the film without reading the book, they will still think Scott is an awful man, but they may not automatically realise just how dangerous his character can be.


Difference 4: Tom Watson’s Characterisation and Revelation that he is the Killer

The Book

Rachel remembers Tom to be the perfect husband until he cheats on her with with his current wife, Anna Boyd, who he also has a child with. Through Rachel’s characterisation and memories of Tom, the readers are led to believe his relationship with Rachel started to crumble after Rachel couldn’t get pregnant and started to become an alcoholic. Rachel would frequently black out due to her alcoholism and Tom would remind her of what she did, by saying that she would do horrendous things like trying to attack him with a golf club. Rachel is clearly not over Tom and frequently calls him and wants his attention. Tom appears to still care for Rachel and sympathise with her struggles despite how afraid Anna is of Rachel. However, as Rachel regains her memory, she actually discovers that Tom would be cruel and horrendous when she was drunk, and he was the one who swung a golf club at her to scare her. Put all these pieces together (and with so much more in between that I won’t write about because this is not a plot summary), we discover that Tom killed Megan Hipwell.

The Movie 

This basically all remains true in the movie, except that Rachel regains her memories due to one of Tom’s colleagues who tells Rachel she never did the things Tom told her she did. I feel that what is different in the movie is that Tom may be too suspicious from the get go (he even looks suspicious in the trailer). I know some people may disagree with me because others may have read the book and thought that Tom was clearly going to be killer from the beginning, and maybe that is true, but from my perspective there was so much else going on that distracted me from that theory. I believed that Tom may actually care for Rachel. I felt like in the movie, Tom mostly appeared to be a shady guy and not as great as he was made out to be. When the killer was revealed, it didn’t feel as climactic as it did in the book.

Did any of this make a difference in the movie?

Yes. The climax in the film was disappointing. This is one of the things my boyfriend (who hasn’t read the book) mentioned that he did not like about the film- the climax. The killer reveal, and essentially the reveal of Rachel regaining her memories, did not have the same impact and build up as it had in the book. The film was generally sticking to the timeline of the book, but it somehow felt like it skipped the climax (which makes me think that my answer to Scott Hipwell questions is definitely yes, he needed more screen time).


Final Thoughts

I enjoyed the film and it had fantastic performances, I would read the book again and watch the film again. I think I would have enjoyed the film regardless of whether I had read the book or not. I am seeing that the film is getting a lot of mixed reviews, but I am never a fan of film reviews because it is so subjective- just like everything I have written is clearly subjective to my opinion and understanding of the book. I did not write this to sway your opinions about the book or film, but instead to share my thoughts and potentially even have an open discussion with some of you about your own thoughts on this!

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