Love the author? Rereading something pithy? Here are films – fiction and documentary about the person.
Becoming Jane 2007 British. Partly based on the book Becoming Jane Austen by John Hunter Spence. Directed by Julian Jarrold. Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy. The film centers on Jane’s love for Thomas Langlois Lefroy, a young lawyer with poor reputation and at first, no respect for her writing. It was, the book states, “a pivotal relationship in Jane Austen’s early life that was largely unknown to the public.” They fall in love. She begins to write Pride and Prejudice.
Lack of family prevents his father’s permission. The couple plans to elope. (This part is a film conceit.) Jane discovers Tom is the sole support of his family and must wed for money. She nobly withdraws. He’ll name his daughter after her. A happier look at the authoress despite unrequited love. Hathaway is a bit too pretty. With Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, James Fox. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Miss Austen Regrets BBC film 2008 Directed by Jeremy Lovering. Olivia Williams as Jane. When Jane receives and rejects a suitable proposal, she’s accused of setting a poor example to niece Fanny, discouraged in her own aspirations. Negotiating publication of Emma, her brother grows ill. The heroine is taken with his doctor…who turns out to be fickle. She’s cynical and romantic at the same time.
Jane grows ill and regrets she didn’t accept the first wealthy man’s proposal so that she could leave devoted sister Cassandra and her mother secure. Fanny and Cassandra conjecture on Jane’s secret love. See above. With Imogen Poots, Greta Scacchi, Hugh Bonneville, Jack Huston. Social mores and a look at a resigned Jane. Free with Amazon Prime.
Lost in Austen 2007 British Series. Directed by Guy Andrews. A fantasy. Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) discovers Pride and Prejudice’s night-gowned Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arteton) in her present day bathroom. Stepping through a secret door, Amanda enters Longbourn, house of the Bennet family, leaving Elizabeth in the 21st Century.
She tries to move the story along, but when Mr. Bingley admires her more than Jane troubles begin. The heroine lurches from emotional involvement to well intended machination. It’s fun. With Eliot Cowan, Alex Kingston, Hugh Bonneville, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Riley. Season 1 free with Amazon Prime.
Lord Byron and Mary Shelley
Byron 2003 BBC Television film Directed by Julian Farino. Johnny Lee Miller as Byron with Vanessa Redgrave as Lady Melbourne. I haven’t seen this one. Free with Amazon Prime or rent on Netflix.
Mary Shelley 2018 Directed by Haifa al-Mansour. Elle Fanning plays Mary Godwin who, on a trip to Scotland, meets and falls in love with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). The couple run away together taking Mary’s best friend and companion Claire (Bel Powley). Shelley demands an open relationship. The three attend a demonstration of “Galvanism” during which a dead frog twitches by means of electricity. Also at the event is Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge).
Mary and Percy sink into poverty due to his irresponsible spending. Claire is carrying his child. Byron invites them all to a villa near Geneva. The host challenges his guests to write a ghost story. Seeds are planted for Frankenstein which Mary completes in London. She publishes under a nom de plume with foreword by Shelley. A second issuing of the book bears her name. Appealing in part because of the actors’ youth and lack of theatrical histrionics. Rent on Netflix.
Wilde 1998 Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography by Richard Ellmann. Directed by Brian Gilbert. With Stephen Fry, who closely resembles the author, as Oscar Wilde. The film unexpectedly starts with Wilde’s successful lecture tour in America – in fact, in Leadville, Colorado. (Yes, Virginia, there was a Leadville.) Returning to London, he dutifully marries (Jennifer Ehle) and has two children.
Wilde is smitten, then obsessed with the beautiful, young, polyamorous Lord Alfred Douglas/”Bosie” (Jude Law). A passionate relationship erupts until halted by Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson), who makes a public fuss.
Against advice, Wilde sues the Marquess for libel. The writer’s illegal homosexuality/“indecency” is exposed in court. He’s sentenced to two years hard labor which robs him of health. Wilde eventually sees Douglas again, though not his wife and children. His story, The Selfish Giant, is woven through narrative. One gets a feeling for Wilde, the talented, vulnerable dandy, rather than as later portrayed in a more self-destructive vein. Rent on Netflix.
The Happy Prince 2018 Written, directed by, and starring Rupert Everett, who followed up with a stage play. This concentrates on Wilde’s last three years (with flashbacks), his isolation, declining heath, and depression. We see him bloated, sweating, and rouged, at last “rescued” by remaining friends, Robbie Ross, ostensibly his first liaison (Edwin Thomas), and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth), who set him up in France.
Wilde then takes up with Lord Alfred (Colin Morgan) again until the latter gets bored. Unlike the previous feature, this protagonist is filled with (credible) hedonistic self-loathing. Plotline jerks from time to time causing some vertigo. With Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson. Rent on Netflix.
The Adventures of Mark Twain 1944 Directed by Irving Rapper. Frederic March as Samuel Clemens; Alexis Smith as his wife, Olivia. The film’s gimmick is to mix in Twain’s novels as if he’d experienced everything himself. He works for a newspaper, runs away to become a riverboat captain, gives up his job to be worthy of Olivia – whose portrait he’s seen – prospects for gold, becomes a newspaper reporter in the west, and sells his first story, “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Twain marries Olivia, signs up for a lecture tour, buys a printing press, becomes a publisher, and writes like crazy to support the venture. One more big tour pays off debts, but leaves his ailing wife alone with his daughters. Tom and Huck join him in the afterlife. Definitely Hollywood. You get an impression of the man’s colorful life and hear a lot of wonderful quotes, but the film doesn’t possess a fraction of what Hal Holbrook brought to live performance. With Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, C. Aubry Smith, and John Carradine. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Edith Wharton—The Sense of Harmony Edith Wharton—The Sense of Harmony 2018 Documentary Directed by Elizabeth Lennard; Screenplay by Lennard and Danielle Mémoire. “Conformity is the bane of middle-class communities,” wrote American novelist Edith Wharton in her 1934 autobiography, A Backward Glance. Wharton wrote iconic, detailed tales of New York’s first “Gilded Age.”
Contains the only existing footage of the author herself as well as terrific glimpses of New York and Paris. Did you know that an active fundraiser in The Red Cross during WWI, she toured French front lines as a journalist? Illuminating and evocative. Free with Amazon Prime