I have a confession to make. If there is one thing I enjoy just as much as reading a great book, it’s a great film that has a writer as one of its protagonists. I guess it’s that element of curiosity from a fellow writer to see exactly how this on-screen version of a writer goes about his or her work. Or at least how the screenwriter has written the role. The similarities and the vast differences.
It should really come as no surprise that the occupation of ‘writer’ is a common one when penning an original character in a film. After all, it’s hard to go past their complexities and relatable human flaws! Writers (as you are no doubt aware) bring with them highs, lows, successes and failures, self doubt and creative genius – all the ingredients to creating compelling characters for an audience and equally compelling role for an actor.
So I’ve been making a list of films with writers as central characters. Many of them document actual known writers – with varying degrees of fiction. However, there are also plenty which just happen to have a central (non-famous) character who is a writer.
By no means are they all great films, but they are films about writers, and well worth a look for a different way to view and understand the writing process.
In no particular order, here’s the list:
Miss Potter (2006) starring Renee Zellweger about children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter
Sylvia (2003) starring Gwyneth Paltrow about poet Sylvia Plath, quite a depressing tale.
Capote (2005) starring Philip Seymour Hoffman depicts Truman Capote’s research of his book In Cold Blood, about the murder of a Kansas family.
Infamous (2006) starring Toby Jones as Truman Capote, again about Capote’s relationship with the murderers he wrote about in his book In Cold Blood.
The Hours (2002) starring Nicole Kidman as English writer and essayist Virginia Woolf.
All the President’s Men (1976) starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, about their role in the Watergate scandal.
An Angel at My Table (1990) starring Kerry Fox as New Zealand author Janet Frame, who was institutionalised for seven years and due to be lobotomised just days after her her first volume of stories were published. Fortunately, a nurse challenged the operation and the lobotomy was not performed.
Wilde (1997) starring Stephen Fry as English playwright and poet Oscar Wilde.
Finding Neverland (2004) starring Johnny Depp about J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan and his relationship with the family that inspired the book.
Agatha (1979) starring Vanessa Redgrave as author Agatha Christie and the fictional account of her real life (never solved) disappearance for 12 days in 1926. Presented much like one of her mysteries, it also starred Dustin Hoffman and Timothy Dalton.
Il Postino (1994) about the Chilean poet Pablo Nerada is about his friendship with the postman who delivers mail to him on he island on which he is exiled.
A Mighty Heart (2007) starring Angelina Jolie about journalist Daniel Pearl, who goes missing in Pakistan after he is due to meet an Islamic fundamentalist cleric.
Balibo (2009) starring Anthony Lapaglia as Australian journalist Roger East who was executed by Indonesian soldiers during the invasion of East Timor in 1975.
Henry & June (1990) starring Uma Thurman in this story about author Anais Nin’s relationship with novelist and painter Henry Miller and his wife June.
Iris (2001) starring Dame Judy Dench about novelist Iris Murdoch and her lifelong romance with her husband John Bayley. It also depicts her battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Adaptation (2002) starring Nicolas Cage as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman about Charlie’s struggle in adapting Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief to the screen. I’m still a bit confused as to which bits are fictional and which are not.
Bright Star (2009) starring Abbie Cornish about poet John Keats’s three year romance with Fanny Brawne.
Me and Orson Welles (2008) starring Zac Efron about Orson Welles’s relationship with a young teenager who is cast in one of his plays.
Becoming Jane (2007) starring Anne Hathaway as a young Jane Austen and her romance with Irishman Tom Lefroy. The movie appears to exaggerate and take creative licence with a relationship that may not have been as serious in reality as it was depicted on film.
The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (1990) starring Jason Connery about the author and creator of the successful James Bond books.
Shadowlands (1995) starring Joss Ackland about Irish-born British author CS Lewis and his relationship with American poet and writer Joy Gresham.
Hemingway and Fuentes (2010) starring Anthony Hopkins about writer Ernest Hemingway’s friendship with boat captain Gregorio Fuentes, who inspires “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Shadows in the Sun (2005) starring Harvey Keitel as a famous author suffering from severe writers block and hiding away in picturesque rural Italy. When an aspiring young writer tracks him down, the two learn plenty from each other.
Freedom Writers (2007) starring Hilary Swank as teacher Erin Gruwell who wrote the book The Freedom Writers Diary about teaching young adults at risk and how she encourages them to write their diaries in book form.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) starring Johnny Depp, apparently semi-autobiographical account of Hunter S Thompson’s time spent with an attorney during trips to Vegas to interview him for a story.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995) starring Nicolas Cage is apparently a semi-autobiographical film of the book of the same name written by John O’Brien. O’Brien committed suicide two weeks after production of the film started. A halt was considered, but work continued as a tribute
My Brilliant Career (1979) starring Judy Davis. It’s actually based on the book written by Australian author Miles Franklin (the pen name of Stella Miles) but it’s a fictional book.
Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012) starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in this TV movie about Ernest Hemingway and WWII correspondent Martha Gellhorn – who provided inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The Muse (1999) starring Albert Brooks as a Hollywood screenwriter who rather ridiculously enlists the help of a modern day mythical muse (Sharon Stone) to transform his writing fortunes.
Finding Forrester (2000) starring Sean Connery (in one of his last roles before retiring from acting) as a reclusive author who becomes a mentor to a young black student who dreams of being a writer.
The Words (2012) starring Bradley Cooper as a writer who steals another man’s manuscript and struggles with the guilt of his resulting success.
The Ghost Writer (2010) starring Ewan McGregor as a ghost writer hired to write the memoir of a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan). Intrigue and danger ensue.
Beat (2000) starring Kiefer Sutherland as writer William S. Burroughs and Courtney Love as his wife, in a film that also centres around other core Beat Generation authors from the 1950s, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr and Jack Kerouac.
Kafka (1991) starring Jeremy Irons as “Kafka” – clearly based on (but never explicitly stated as such) author Franz Kafka, whose story and much of the film’s references relate to Kafka’s writings. It was one of Stephen Soderbergh’s earliest directed films.
Author! Author! (1982) starring Al Pacino as a Broadway playwright struggling to keep all the aspects of his life together during rewrites for his rehearsing show.
Authors Anonymous (2014) starring Kaley Cuoco looks at the comical fallout after a new member in a writing group of unpublished authors finds overnight success.
Words and Pictures (2013) starring Clive Owen again, this time as a high school English teacher whose rivalry with the Art teacher (Juliette Binoche) sees a competition for which is in fact superior, pictures or words?
Trumbo (2015) starring Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, who in 1947 was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he was jailed and blacklisted for his political beliefs. It’s a true story and it’s not quite in cinemas yet.
Do you have others that aren’t on our list?
Let us know.