The Shawshank Redemption is an absolute timeless classic film where Morgan Freeman plays our loveable con Red and Tim Robbins plays the mysterious yet forever hopeful Andy Dufresne – a man who is wrongly accused of a crime and is made to pay the ultimate price.
However, what some people don’t realise is that this incredible movie is based on Stephen King’s 103-page story, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It was originally published in his 1982 collection of stories called Different Seasons, subtitled Hope Springs Eternal. But after it’s success, it has since been printed as it’s own novella.
The film version of the story is arguably more popular than its novel counterpart, but the book is equally as brilliant, if not more.
A lot of the voiceovers and dialogues and series of events in the film are pretty much identical to the book. However, as it always is with film adaptions, there are some key differences.
Here we list 12 of the biggest differences between the two.
1. Character appearances
The physical appearances of some of the characters differ between the book and the film. In Shawshank the film, Red is played by Morgan Freeman. So, the character is black as opposed to being white, red headed and Irish in the book. Hence the name Red. They did pay homage to this in the film however, when Andy asks Red why they call him Red, and he replies, “Maybe it’s ’cause I’m Irish.” This joke might be lost on some moviegoers who haven’t red the book. Andy’s appearance is also different, as he’s described a small, rather chubby man in the book and not the 6 feet 4 inches tall and slender Tim Robbins.
2. The posters
In the novella, the poster on Andy’s wall changes multiple times, and the reason the title of the story includes Rita Hayworth in the title is because this one had particular significance, since this was the first one Andy asked for. And in the book, it was reason Andy and Red became friends. In the film, however, the poster actually only changes twice.
3. Music? What music?
There’s a particularly moving scene in the film where Andy comes across a vinyl record when unloading books that were delivered for the library. In the scene, Andy locks the guard that’s supervising him in the bathroom and locks himself in the warden’s office. Whilst in the office, he plays the music over the tannoy so that all the prisoners can hear the music. Once caught, he gets a week in the ‘hole’ for that stunt. It’s quite an important part of the film, because it sparks the first conversation between Andy and Red about hope, and Andy uses it to try to remind Red that there is still more to life than the prison walls, and there’s always something inside a man that no one can ever touch or take away. In the book there’s no such scene or moment.
4. The Warden and the guards
Speaking of the warden and the guards, in the film there is only one Warden – Warden Norton – and then his right hand man, Byron Hadley. In the book, however, there are three Wardens that come and go: Warden George Dunahy, Greg Stammas, and Samuel Norton. It may sound insignificant, but it hugely affects the plot. In King’s version, it’s Greg Stammas who forces Andy to start the illegal accounting business that moves the money form the prison into his personal bank account. In the film it’s Warden Samuel Norton who’s behind it, which gives Andy the motivation to get revenge.
5. Warden Norton and Byron Hadley’s fate
This is why the previous point is so significant… With Andy getting revenge on Warden Norton in the film, once he escapes he sends out proof of this illegal business that gets the police to come for both the warden and his right hand man, Bryon. In the film, Bryon is arrested for being involved in the crimes, and the Warden shoots himself in the head before the police can get to him. The book’s version is a lot less dramatic, where the warden just resigns from his jobs and leaves with the police, and Byron, who isn’t as essential a character in the book as he is in the film, has a heart attack in the middle of the story and has already retired by this point.
In the film, Brook’s was the lovely old man who ran the library who we came to know and love. He symbolised what Red called being institutionalised and took Andy under his wing when he moved into the library. He also cared after a little bird he called Jake, that fell out it’s nest and couldn’t fly. He also delivered books and the items Red smuggled into the prison for fellow prisoners. In the book, however, Brooks was only mentioned briefly at the start for a few sentences where Red explains that the old librarian became institutionalised when he left, and his bird came back after he left but turned up dead. It was someone else who actually worked in the library and delivered the books and items in the book by the time Andy showed up.
7. Tommy Williams’ fate
Tommy was the reason everyone realised that Andy was actually innocent – in both the film and the book. However, his fate differs between the two adaptions. In the film, the Warden kills Tommy and stages it to look like an escape when he admits he would go to bat for Andy and say on the stand that he’s innocent. In the book, the Warden persuades Tommy to keep his mouth shut with a transfer to another prison where he could be with his girlfriend and child on weekends.
8. Andy had a cellmate?
For a short time in the book, Andy has to share his cell with another inmate. At the time, this particular cellmate complains about a draft and how cold the cell is. Which we later learn came from the massive hole in Andy’s wall. In the book, there is no such cellmate, and everyone has their own separate cells.
9. Stones vs Chess pieces
In the book, Andy polishes off rocks to clean them up so that they can be revealed as quartz or something like it. He carves them into cufflink style ornaments or small towers which he gives to his friends, like Red. But in the film, he gets big rocks and carves them into chess pieces.
10. Shawshank’s other escapes
In King’s version, Red talks a lot about other escape attempts – both successful and unsuccessful – which explains how Andy is not the first to try and get out of Shawshank Prison. There is no such mention of any other escapes in the film.
11. Help from outside the walls
Andy manages to set up a whole other fake account and fake ID that he can use when he escapes from prison while he’s in prison. At least, he does in the film adaption. In the book he already sets some things up in advance, like another account that he transferred his money into, another driver’s license, documents etc, with the help of someone from the outside. Unfortunately, that person dies, and Andy has to bank on the hope that all the money and details of a new life will remain buried in the same spot by the time he gets out of prison. In the movie this is all set up from the prison walls himself.
12. The ending
Both the book and the film endings are very similar in that when Red is freed, he goes to look for the rock that has all the details of the new life buried under it. After finding it, he reads a note left for him by Andy who invites Red to join him in his new life in Zihuatanejo. The book finishes with the same voice over in the film, where Red talks about leaving to meet Andy again. He talks about hoping to see him, shake his hand, and see the Pacific. In the closing moments of the film however, we see Red walk along the beach where Andy is working on a boat and the two men reconcile. The books leaves us on the cliff-hanger wondering if he ever made it. The film shows us that he does.