Page to Screen – Literary Bio-Pics

On May 1st Ellen Cheshire took us on a fascinating journey through the many films that have been made on the lives of writers from Shakespeare to Dickens and the more contemporary, such as Virginia Woolf and Truman Capote. Her talk was well illustrated with clips from numerous bio-pics and her expertise in the world of cinema added depth as well as colour to her talk. Ellen explained how Bio-Pics differ from fictional stories. How much of the subject’s life should be portrayed? Whose life is suitable for a bio-pic? Should the approach be chronological, jumping around in time, use flashbacks, or be a combination of all three?  Will the subject be portrayed by one actor, or two or three to cover various stages in life? How the writer’s life is presented or mis-represented affects the critical reception. The producer has a mission to maintain integrity and to entertain. Issues of copyright, permissions from the subject’s estate, the risk of legal action have all to be taken into account. I am sure we all heard about literary films we would like to see that we have missed or would like to see again.  See list below.

Notes contributed by Richard Davies, Robbie Grieve and Lois Coulthart.


Some of the films mentioned during the talk in no particular order:

Wilde (Oscar Wilde -Stephen Fry) 1997

The Trials of Oscar Wilde (Peter Finch) 1960

Happy Prince (Oscar Wilde – Colin Firth, Rupert Everett) 2018

Bright Star  (John Keats – Ben Whishaw) 2009

An Angel at my Table (Janet Frame, NZ writer) 1991

Iris ( Iris Murdoch -Judy Dench, Kate Winslet) 2001

American Splendour (Harvey Pekar – Amer. comic book writer) 2003

The Hours (Virginia Woolf – Nicole Kidman) 2002

Capote ( Truman Capote – Seymour Hoffman) 2005  , Infamous (Toby Jones) 2006

Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien – Nicholas Hoult) 2019

Colette (Keira Knightley ) 2018

Shadowlands (C.S.Lewis – Anthony Hopkins) 1993

Vita & Virginia (Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf  – Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki) 2018