Love the author? Rereading something pithy? Here are films – fiction and documentary- about the person.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women 2009 PBS American Masters i.e. well done and thorough. Directed by Nancy Porter. Alcott was something more of a progressive than we think. The biggest surprise, however is, her having penned some thirty pulp fiction thrillers under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, something not discovered until the 1940s. Free with Amazon Prime.
Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen Poe Master of the Macabre 2014 Director Liam Dale. With Jack Roberts as Poe. The author’s early childhood traumas and fantasies, preoccupation with the dead and dying, aborted love, struggles with career, opium, alcohol, and the still unsolved mystery of his premature death. Too many shots of modern day locations make this disjointed instead of evocative. Free with Amazon Prime.
Poe in His Own Words 2016- Directed by Mark W. Curran. A theater production with Travis Rhett Wilson as Edgar Allen Poe. Melodramatic rather than scary, but perhaps theatrically of Poe’s time. Disc includes the documentary: The Timeless Mystery of Edgar Allen Poe. On Amazon Prime.
His Last Stop: The Curious Death of Edgar Allen Poe 2019 Directed by Ben Stahl. A short film on the missing days preceding Poe’s death. In 1849, boarding the train from Richmond to New York with a stopover in Baltimore, there was no sign of anything amiss. Five days later, the author was found incoherently raving in a Baltimore gutter wearing someone else’s clothes. He was taken to a hospital where he shortly died. Causes were much conjectured, but never determined. One can’t help but wish the film had dug deeper and theorized instead of just stating facts. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Man with A Cloak a splendid 1951 thriller in which we don’t know a character is Poe until towards the end. Based on “The Gentleman from Paris,” a short story by John Dickinson Carr. Directed by Fletcher Markle. With Joseph Cotton as a dissipated, courtly Poe, a very young Leslie Caron, Barbara Stanwyck and Louis Calhern. DVD on Amazon.
Dreamchild 1985 Written by Dennis Potter. Directed by Gavin Millar. Now elderly, Alice Liddell, who, as a child, inspired Carroll/Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s stories, travels to the United States to receive an honorary degree on the centenary of the author’s birth. (This was based on a real event.) She remembers their 1860s meetings with mixed feelings – he was infatuated, she cruel, hallucinates characters from his stories (done well) and copes with the exploitation of big city journalism aided by a sympathetic reporter.
The film is both perceptive and lovely. Ian Holm plays Carroll, Coral Browne, Alice, Peter Gallagher, the reporter. The acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass spells out Alice’s name in full. Free with Amazon Prime.
Tolkien 2019 Directed by Dome Karukoski. The young life of this author from his influential mother’s fanciful stories and early death, to a patrician foster home where Tolkien falls in love with another ward, through separation, school friends, war, romantic reconciliation, Oxford University, and writing The Hobbit. We witness proclivity for language, interest in religion, and lifelong loyalty in shorthand, but never get a sense of the author’s imagination. Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meany, Derek Jacobi. Rent on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Miss Potter 2006 Directed by Chris Noonan. Based on the life of children’s author/illustrator Beatrix Potter who wrote the iconic Peter Rabbit books. This is a rare instance where briefly animating the author’s illustrations works wonderfully. When a publisher agrees to print spinster Beatrix Potter’s (Renee Zellweger) first book, it’s to keep the youngest member of the firm, Norman Wayne (Ewan McGregor), occupied. Everyone is sure it will fail. Norman is inexperienced, but captivated by both the slim volume and its creator. He proposes. The book is a tremendous success.
Potter’s parents are against the marriage and keep the couple apart assuming Beatrix will forget her love. She does not, but he dies before they get together again. Bereft, she finds her characters leaping off the page…it’s time for a change…A tender film, nicely produced.With Emily Watson and Bill Patterson. Rent on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen- My Life As a Fairytale 2003 A miniseries. Directed by Philip Saville. Kieran Bew as Andersen. Emily Hamilton, Flora Montgomery, Simon Callow. It’s the author’s life with integrated fairytales. According to this film, 15 year old Hans pays a visit to a gypsy fortune teller, who predicted, “There will come a day when all of Copenhagen will be lit up in your honor.” More realistic than the musical, but not by much. The pretty boy lead is completely unbelievable. Free with Amazon Prime.
Hans Christian Andersen 1952 Directed by Charles Vidor with Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Danny Kaye as the author. A charming musical interweaving several of the author’s tales with a character of his name. Not the story of his life. With Farley Granger, Zizi Jeanmaire, Eric Bruhn, Roland Petit. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top Bigstock: Alice in Wonderland original vintage engraving. Tea party with the Mad Hatter, Dormouse and the White Rabbit. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Illustration from John Tenniel