Recent Films about Authors
Review of Colette (2018) ***
Colette (2018) is yet another contemporary movie about writers. Starring Kiera Knightly as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, and Dominic West as her husband Willy, it tells the story of France’s most famous female author. I caught up with the film last night on TV with my wife Cherith, having missed it last year when it was on general release in the cinema. The film focuses on the challenges faced by a late nineteenth century female author, writing as she was in a profession dominated by men - specifically, one man, the rather symbolically named Willy, a disastrous husband and failed author whose personality lurches from the controlling to the comic. This is in fact the third film exploring this same subject in the last few years. The other two, in case you missed them, were To Walk Invisible (2016) about the Bronte sisters, and Mary Shelley (2017) about the author of Frankenstein. All three present their heroes as nineteenth century, feminist, literary icons. In Kiera Knightly’s reimagining of Colette we have arguably the standout performance in these three films, although Chloe Pirrie’s Emily Bronte is magnificent too in To Walk Invisible. Colette’s stories about Claudine were and are a very important contribution to the canon of French literature - a ‘coming of age’ YA series that appealed to millions of girls trying to navigate their way from adolescence to adulthood. It’s hard to imagine the impact of reading the following words for the first time: “My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there” (the first sentence of Claudine at School, Colette’s debut novel). And it’s even harder to imagine how a man like her husband could have taken the credit for these stories for so many years, concealing her writing gift, eroding her identity, and diminishing her voice. Kiera Knightly’s portrayal of Colette is poignant, even if the film doesn’t always succeed in packing an emotional punch (it’s a bit too cluttered for that). Having said that, if male viewers don’t have the heart to sign up to #metoo after these three films, then there really is something wrong. And if authors in our generation don’t feel moved to write with a social conscience, then we are wasting our gifts and our time.***
Reviews of Films about Writers, or Films based on Great Books
Having written four books about films, as well as done numerous BBC interviews about the relationship between faith and film, I have a continuing passion for the movies (the title of my main book on this topic). On this page we will be looking at some of the latest films that portray writers, the writer's lifestyle, or show in visual form some of the great books of our times.
Tolkien (2019) ***
May 10th 2019
Tolkien was Dad's college professor of Eng Lit at Oxford. I was therefore brought up in a Tolkien-shaped world and I had high expectations of this film. So, what's the movie like? I was generally impressed, particularly with Nicholas Hoult, but I had two problems with it - first, it was structurally unsatisfying. There was a missed opportunity at the end, where the scriptwriter could have provided a satisfying comparison between the Inklings and the four boys and their literary group at the start of the film. Where were the Inklings in the final frames, especially the big four - Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield and Williams? This relates secondly to Tolkien’s spirituality (the Inklings were as much about faith as they were about literature). We learned a lot about his religion (Catholicism) but nothing about his faith. This is central to Tolkien’s character and craft. In the end we were led to believe that Wagner was more important to Tollers than Christ and that’s inaccurate. I think the success or failure of films like these lies in whether they enlarge or diminish our vision of the person they’re portraying and in the end I just felt it didn’t really add a lot to my understanding of the man. Having said all that, it was moving in places and I found myself shedding a tear as he penned the first line of LOTR, and I liked the way the loyal rifleman was linked by name with Samwise (although that’s also an old insight from Tolkien himself). All in all, ***