The lives of famous authors are often just as fascinating as the literary works they created.
From Jane Austen to Ian Fleming, our guest writer Elizabeth Niedbala has picked out eight of the best period drama movies and TV series that dramatise the incredible real life stories of our favourite writers.
Saving Mr. Banks
Starring Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, this 2013 movie follows the Mary Poppins creator from London to Hollywood, as she and her books are courted by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).
Set in the early 1960s, the movie also details Travers’ childhood in Australia, and the relationship she had with her father (played by Colin Farrell), her mother (Ruth Wilson) and her aunt (Rachel Griffiths).
It’s full of early Disney nostalgia, though it never addresses Travers’ true feelings on Disney’s adaptation.
Saving Mr Banks is available on DVD on Amazon.
Anne Hathaway stars as Jane Austen, before she was famous.
A quiet, highly stylized film from 2007, Becoming Jane focuses on her relationship troubles, which may have influenced her work. The film asks questions such as do women need experience to write fiction? Can writing be a career and a way to live? Should one marry for love rather than money? And is one’s duty to one’s self or to the family?
Hathaway gives a beautiful performance as Austin and stars opposite James McAvoy (Atonement), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), and James Cromwell.
Becoming Jane is available on DVD on Amazon.
To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters
As in Becoming Jane, 2017’s BBC mini-series by the writer of Gentleman Jack follows the Brontë sisters – Charlotte (Finn Atkins), Emily (Chloe Pierrie), and Anne (Charlie Murphy) – as they write to support themselves.
Unlike Jane, they hide their writing and their publications from their father and their brother Bramwell (Adam Nagaitis). In the first episode, the women question the purpose of writing and if the effort is worth it even if they don’t get published.
Like Jane, they understand their situation; Bramwell squanders money and job opportunities and is in no position to support them. Their father is old. They question gender roles and how men and women are judged by their writing.
In the second episode, it details the struggles of publication, but also the joy of sharing the success of their work. The series also has an epilogue in present day, where their house is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and where their stories live on to inspire.
To Walk Invisible is available on DVD on Amazon.
Goodbye Christopher Robin
2017 movie Goodbye Christopher Robin details the creation, the publication, and the affects Winnie the Pooh had on A. A. Milne and his family.
After surviving World War I and struggling with PTSD, Milne moves to the country, where he rediscovers living through a child’s eyes. His son, Christopher Robin, is the inspiration and co-creator of the stories, which are based on their play times.
The movie addresses the stunning popularity of the books and the issue of child celebrity and exploitation. The public and the Milnes struggle to separate fantasy from reality, while also finding refuge in a child’s world.
Set in the decadent 1920s, this film stars Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina), Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots), Will Tilston and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game).
Goodbye Christopher Robin is available on DVD on Amazon.
The Invisible Woman
This 2013 movie doesn’t focus on Charles Dickens’ writing, but instead the relationship he had with Nelly Turner, a young actress.
At first under the guise of helping her and her struggling family, the increasingly romantic relationship causes Dickens to publicly separate from his wife. The film addresses the idea of celebrity and who creates fame; Dickens says “it is not always of my own making.”
We see Dickens’ write, and the alternate ending to Great Expectations is discussed, but it is not the focus of this story.
Ralph Fiennes gives a transformative performance and superbly directs this feature film, alongside Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything).
The Invisible Woman is available on DVD on Amazon.
A puzzle box of a movie from 2002, The Hours‘ plot stems from the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
Focusing on three different women, it creates parallels and mirrors that span time and space.
Virginia Woolf, in 1923, is working on Mrs. Dalloway while anticipating a visit from her sister. Laura, in America in 1951, is raising her first child Richie, pregnant with her second, and contemplating suicide. In 2002, Clarissa is getting a party ready for her friend dying of complications related to AIDS.
Starring Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man), Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), it deals with female sexuality, as well as with the kind of life a woman wants to live and how one book can transcend time to connect people of different generations.
The Hours is available on DVD on Amazon.
Like Austen and the Brontës before her, Peter Rabbit creator Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger) struggles with the notion of supporting herself by writing.
She faces doubts from her family, even when she becomes a bestselling author. She also faces the question of marriage – for love or for money? For herself or for her family’s status?
This 2006 movie has similar themes to Becoming Jane and To Walk Invisible, with the added bonus of clever animation of Potter’s familiar illustrations. The cast also includes Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne and Emily Watson as Millie Warne.
Miss Potter is available on DVD on Amazon.
Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond
Staring Dominic Cooper (The Duchess), Lara Pulver (Sherlock) and Samuel West (Mr Selfridge), this four-part mini-series made in 2014 depicts the life of Ian Fleming before he wrote his series of hugely successful James Bond novels.
Set in the 1940s and the 1950s, the TV drama reveals that it was Fleming’s real-life job as a Naval Intelligence officer which inspired his 007 stories.
His self-described “potboiler[s],” show that he didn’t have a high regard for his work. Neither did anyone else; he was the black sheep of the family and failed to live up to their standards.
A stylish though rather heightened and unrealistic series, it’s a good choice if you want something fluffy, adventurous and fun.
Fleming is available on DVD on Amazon.