The Sunday Salon: Authorial Biopics

In addition to books, I love movies. I thoroughly enjoyed my Introduction to Film Studies class last semester, to the tune of keeping the textbook for further reference. (And I also enjoy having an academic text confirm that yes, loving Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings is just and right. Deep down, we all just want affirmation and approval.) A lot of the time, when these two loves collide, it’s when a novel is adapted into a film—but occasionally it happens when an author’s life is reimagined by screenwriters. (And by “reimagine”, I of course mean “create fanfiction”. We’re all fanfic writers, maaaaaaan.) Hence today’s post, which highlights the last three authorial biopics I’ve seen. (I have seen Anonymous most recently, but… I’m not ready to talk about that. I may never be ready to talk about that.)

Magic Beyond Words

…I never said I was a role model.

Magic Beyond Words hovers in some odd territory between the usual Lifetime Original Movie fare, which is camp and melodramatic, and an actually good movie. There are some moments you have to take seriously—Rowling’s failed first marriage—and moments of pure silliness as the film dances it damndest around copyright infringement, such as a bizarre montage of Rowling writing and encountering magical creatures in the real world. (I realize writing is hard to depict onscreen, but come on.) And it has plenty of those weird moments author biopics are rife with—the moments where something in the author’s writing actually happened in real life! For instance, Ron Weasley is loosely inspired by Sean Harris, a friend of Rowling’s in school. He shows up briefly as a flaming redhead (I have no idea what Harris’ actual hair color is) with a turquoise Ford Anglia (actual fact), whom Rowling teases by calling him “a weaselly guy”. Yikes.

Although teenage hellion J. K. Rowling will never not be funny.


I watched this last summer with my friend Natalya, a serious film buff who seriously needs a film blog of her own to share her brilliant thoughts with the world. It’s a gorgeous film—the opening credits are even over undulating waves of bold, beautiful cloth. We did, however, feel our lack of international film knowledge, as we were only able to identify actors by what English-speaking actors they looked like. (And lo, the The Lord of the Rings jokes abounded. Good times.) In any case, we enjoyed how Molière wanders into this aristocratic family’s life and improves it, especially considering how tenderly his relationship with the woman of the house is treated.

So imagine our cries of alarm when we discovered it’s essentially Tartuffe, making it yet another film (like Shakespeare in Love) that proposes famous writers only wrote what they know. Sure, everyone is curious as to what real life events influenced writers, but this always feels like lazy shorthand to me. We write what we don’t know all the time. Give ’em a little credit, jeez.

Heavenly Creatures

When Jenny told me that Anne Perry, the murder mystery novelist, was herself a murderer, it blew my mind. And then my mind was reblown when I discovered that Peter Jackson had made a film about it. (I’ve been meaning to explore his early filmography, but I’m squeamish.) I had to see it. It isn’t, of course, a traditional authorial biopic, of course, but it still counts.

It took a while to grow on me, I have to say, but grow on me it did. Kate Winslet, in her debut film, is good and creepy, especially as the film spirals into its final, horrifying conclusion. But more fascinating to me was Melanie Lynskey as Pauline Parker, the young Kiwi girl. Lynskey is probably known to most American audiences as Jacqueline, the awesome evil stepsister in Ever After. She’s quite funny there, but her intensity, vulnerability, and anger here are so intense. And their fantasy world is executed in a way that’s period without feeling dated, able to turn from joyful to violent in an instant. Just writing about it makes me want to rewatch it, especially after having taken my Introduction to Film Studies.

I’m back home for spring break! I’m trying to make it a little retreat, full of sleep, reading, and cooking, but I’ve got a baby shower today and appointments tomorrow. Yeesh. In any case, it shamefully took me all week to finish Black Ships. As soon as I got home, I hit the library first, picking up The Snow Queen, The Marriage Plot (right off the new books shelf!), and A Feast for Crows, which I’ve begun and am enjoying immensely.

The Mary Sue is giving away several geeky prizes and books until an unspecified date. The Feminist Texan is giving away a copy of Girls Like Us until Friday. Red House Books is giving away your choice of one of Jaclyn Dolamore’s books until the 20th. Tor/Forge is giving away a prize pack of eight of their spring releases until April 6; you have to sign up for their newsletter. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

What’s your favorite (or least favorite!) authorial biopic?

6 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Authorial Biopics

  1. Thanks for the shout out! 🙂

    And I love this post! I was a media studies minor in undergrad, so I took a ton of film courses and I really miss getting to analyze films in class. My favorite authorial biopics are Quills (Marquis de Sade, although I’d use the term “biopic” loosely here) and The Last Station (Tolstoy).

    • Thank you for hosting such a great giveaway!

      Luckily, I have real life friends who will go with me into the magical land of analysis—I particularly love what we’ve dug out of X-Men: First Class.

      We’ve got Quills at our local library, I think!

  2. I just recently learned of Anne Perry’s murdering ways. I was shocked. I have yet to read any of her books myself, but my parents and grandparents were total addicts for a long, long time. Apparently they all went off her work when they learned what she’d done.

    I’ll have to check and see if I can get my hands on HEAVENLY CREATURES. Ditto MOLIERE, even with the writers-should-stick-to-what-they-know thing going on there.

    • I now feel very awkward when I have to shelve the considerable amount of Anne Perry at my local library; little old Southern ladies love murder mysteries.

      Heavenly Creatures is well worth a watch—two, if you’ve the time.

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