Love the author? Rereading something pithy? Here are films – fiction and documentary- about the person.
Jules Verne – A Lifelong Journey 2015 Directed by Misha Kostrov. In Russian – subtitled. An unusual (effective and entertaining) combination of computer generated fantasy and live action taking the prescient French author from daily life to imagination and back. Here’s yet another young man whose family insisted he become a lawyer – when he yearned to travel. At 11, Verne managed to ship out to India only to be corralled by his father at the first port of call.
Later, in Paris to study law, the incipient author continued fascination with science and travel rather than his studies. A fortunate introduction to Alexander Dumas through Dumas’ son got him commissions for playwriting. Verne wrote articles about geography, history, science and technology. “A Voyage in A Balloon” was one of these. Stories and plays were his bread and butter until meeting the publisher of Victor Hugo and George Sand.
The two fixed on a series of novels called Extraordinary Voyages which would give us most of what we think of today either as iconic fantasies or technical prophesies. Ray Bradbury summed up Verne’s influence on literature and science the world over by saying: “We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne.” Though his life is somewhat simplified, spirit and creativity are ably manifest. Fun. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Vita Sackville West/Virginia Woolf
Vita & Virginia 2019 Adapted from the play by Eileen Atkins. Directed by Chanya Button. Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Eileen Atkins, and, here, a forgettable Isabella Rossellini. The unconventional love affair of Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf, both of whom were married, in 1920s England. Too much talk and not enough showing make this an unmoving piece. Nor do the actresses seem to be on the same page. Atmosphere is right, however. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Hours 2002 Based on Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Directed by Stephen Daldry. A single day in the life of three women of different generations connected by Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway .
In 2001, bi-sexual Clarissa Vaughan’s (Meryl Streep) fancy party for her ex, an AIDS stricken poet, is completely upended by his suicide in her presence. Her lover, her daughter, and his mother arrive. In 1951 California, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is unhappily married and pregnant. She drops her young son with a neighbor and checks into a hotel intending suicide.
And in 1923 England, Woolf (Nicole Kidman, Best Actress Academy Award) struggles against depression in order to keep working. Her sister Vanessa Bell visits, raking up jealousy. Her husband is rightly concerned Virginia will commit suicide. Dour, but beautifully acted. Free with Amazon Prime.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Mr. Holmes 2015 Based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind. Ninety-three year old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired to Sussex where he writes, reads, and keeps bees. Holmes is cared for by widowed housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney). Unhappy with Watson’s write-up of his last case, the eminent detective attempts to write a version of his own and is struggling with memory issues. Munro’s young son, Roger (Milo Parker), inadvertently jogs his memory. Holmes and he grow close.
Thirty years ago the detective trailed a wife and mother for a husband who thought she was plotting murder. In fact, the young woman was planning suicide. Holmes was attracted to and empathized with her deep depression. He prevented one attempt, but later discovered her success with another and blamed himself. In his present day, the protagonist has to cope with Munro’s feeling unappreciated and her intention to take a job elsewhere. The old man at last shows vulnerability. An odd and lovely little film. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Forgotten Footage: Arthur Conan Doyle 2018 (Filmed in 1927) An actual 12 minute interview with the author during which he answers questions about the origin of Sherlock Holmes and his fascination with the psychic and paranormal. Wonderful. Free with Amazon Prime.
Shadowlands 1994 Based on the stage play by William Nicholson. The relationship between British author/academic C.S. Lewis (The Narnia Books) and American poet, Joy Davidman, until her death from cancer. Directed by Richard Attenborough. With Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
Confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis meets fan, Joy Davidman, surprised at and drawn by her acuity and inhibition. Though they marry partly to help Joy stay in England, the relationship stealthily deepens changing Lewis’ outlook for his remaining years. Intelligent and moving. With Edward Hardwicke, Joseph Mazzelo, James Frain, Julian Fellowes. Free with Amazon Prime.
Narnia’s Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C.S. Lewis 2013 Directed by Ian Denyer. With the author’s biographer, A.N. Wilson. For those interested in the shape of Lewis’ life and relationships, his attempts to rationally explain Christianity, and plausible inspiration for his Narnia books (100 million copies and counting).
Wilson is articulate. The piece is well researched, if not so visually interesting. Lewis is deemed a terrible poet, an excellent Medieval scholar, a loyal caregiver (to his alcoholic brother), and a spellbinding lecturer always passed over for advancement. Did you know that for years he secretly cohabited with the mother of a dead army buddy, having promised to take care of her? Free with Amazon Prime.
A.A. Milne (Alan Alexander Milne)
Goodbye Christopher Robin 2017 Directed by Simon Curtis. At the end of WWI, AA Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns home shell shocked and has son Christopher Robin -c alled “Billy Moon” by his parents – with wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie). When Milne moves his family to the countryside so he can write, his wife angrily returns to London. As the nanny must simultaneously be absent, father and son are left alone. Visits by illustrator Ernest H. Sheppard (Stephen Campbell Moore) lead to the Winnie the Pooh books.
With success, Daphne returns. A confused “Billy” aka Christopher Robin, is trotted out for publicity. Ostensibly to rescue his son, Milne puts Billy in boarding school where he’s bullied within an inch of his life. When WWII starts, the boy is medically rejected, but pushes his father to exert influence getting him into service. Billy is reported missing, but… Very credible – except perhaps for excess shine. Shows dark underpinnings of the iconic books. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Christopher Robin 2018 Directed by Marc Forster. Ewan McGregor plays Christopher, Haley Atwell plays his wife. Disney’s live action/CGI combination depicts AA Milne’s son as losing his imagination to the everyday grind until reunited with childhood companion Winnie the Pooh, “a bear of very little brain, but also a bear of very big heart.”
Pooh passes through a tree door to bustling London, complicates Christopher’s life, helps found a business, instigates adventure, rouses beloved characters, and returns lightness and warmth to The Hundred Acre Wood and the boy who started it all. McGregor is charming. Rent on Amazon Prime.
All photos Bigstock
Top: A giant squid attacks the Nautilus of captain Nemo, a scene from Jules Verne’s novel 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. 3d render painting.