Love the author? Rereading something pithy? Here are some films – fiction and documentary – about the person.
The Invisible Woman 2014 Based on the book by Claire Tomalin. Directed by and starring Ralph Feinnes. Inspired by the 13 year affair of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan which lasted until his death. Enchanted by 18 year-old actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), 45 year-old Charles Dickens (Feinnes) casts Nelly, her sister (Perdita Weeks), and mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), in a play and begins to spend time with them. His unsympathetic wife, Catherine, doesn’t share Dickens’ love of literature.
Nelly and Dickens grow closer, but she’s unwilling to be set up elsewhere by him, becoming a “whore.” An amicable separation from Catherine is established. Mrs. Ternan grows to believe her daughter’s suitor offers a secure, if not a public life and gives the couple her blessing. The lovers are secretly together in London and traveling. She has and loses a child.
When Dickens dies, Nelly marries again. Also with Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan. One gets a good sense of the man and what brought these two together. Feinnes admitted he knew little about Dickens until this project. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Dickensian 2015 A BBC television series in which Dickens’ characters interact. Directed by Harry Bradbeer, Philippa Langdale, Mark Brozel, Andy Hay. Inspector Bucket investigates the murder of Scrooge’s partner, Joseph Marley. Scrooge meets Fagin meets Mrs. Haversham meets… With Peter Firth, Joseph Quinn, Sophie Rundle, Tuppence Middleton, Alexandra Moen, Robert Wilfort… I admit to not having seen this one, but sounds like fun. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Man Who Invented Christmas 2017 Based on the book by Les Standiford. Directed by Bharat Nalluri. London 1943, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is suffering from writers’ block after several failures. Hearing an old man mutter “Humbug” at a passing hearse kindles a small flame. Against all advice, he decides to write a Christmas story.
Composition is helped by a manifest Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), his father John Dickens (Jonathan Price), and literate nanny/ servant, Tara (Anna Murphy). We get a glimpse of Dickens’ history as well as the wildly concocted origin story. Lightweight, but fun. Stevens was an odd choice. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Mystery of Charles Dickens Directed by Patrick Garland. Simon Callow’s one man show. Free with Broadway HD Trial.
The Life of Emile Zola 1937 Directed by William Dieterle. Starring Paul Muni. Academy Award Best Picture. Produced as the Nazi Party had power in Germany, Hollywood was too timid to honestly depict Zola’s participation in The Dreyfus Affair – the 19th century treason arrest of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, presuming he was guilty because he was Jewish. Zola defended him. Neither “Nazism” nor “Judaism” is spoken aloud.
Zola publishes an open letter known as “J’accuse” and is sued for libel. Found guilty, he reluctantly flees to London to continue fighting for Dreyfus, eventually achieving exoneration. Follows Zola’s literary life and friendship with Cezanne. With Gloria Holden, Gail Sondergaard, Joseph Schildkraut, Donald Crisp. Rent on Amazon Prime or Netflix.
The Brontë Sisters
Les Sœurs Brontë = The Brontë Sisters 1979 French, written and directed by Andre Téchiné. Starring Isabelle Adjani, Marie-France Pisier, Isabelle Hupert with Pascal Greggory as brother Bramwell. Begins in 1934 when Bramwell painted the famous portrait, ends in 1852 when Charlotte is the only survivor.
The Brontë siblings live a Spartan life under the thumb of a strict minister father (Patrick Magee), yet all have artistic ambitions. The four are extremely close. Two sisters leave, but are forced to return. Charlotte suffers unrequited love, Bramwell an ill fated affair that sends him spiraling into alcohol.
Charlotte discovers Emily’s poems and pushes her to publish. Emily’s Wuthering Heights garners withering reviews, but all three sisters are well received, publishing other books under pseudonyms. Bramwell, Emily, and Anne die, the women of tuberculosis. If you don’t mind the subtitles, this is evocative and well played. Rent on Amazon Prime under its English title.
To Walk Invisible 2017 BBC Series Written and Directed by Sally Wainwright. Focusing on 1846-1848 when all the siblings lived at the parsonage, the women were published, and Bramwell became an alcoholic. With Finn Atkins, Charlie Murphy, Chloe Pirrie, Adam Nagaitus, and Jonathan Pryce as the reverend, Patrick Brontë.
“What author would be without the advantage of being able to walk invisible?” (Charlotte Brontë) Well produced and character specific. Free with Amazon Prime, rent on Netflix.
Top Bigstock photo: April 30, 2015: Stone mural of Charles Dickens and some of his characters on the outside of a building constructed over one of his former homes in Devonshire Terrace, London.