Biopic Films Inspired by Women Authors’ Lives

Miss potter

Lots of films have been made from novels by the classic women authors on this site, as you’ll see by linking to this site’s Filmography. But there are also a number of biopic films inspired by the lives of women authors themselves. Some take more literary license than others, but most can at least be an introduction to the author, her life and work.

Julia 1977 film

Julia  (1977) – Based on the experiences of playwright Lillian Hellman. As a friend of the titled Julia, she assists her with anti-Nazi resistance work in pre-WWII Germany and Austria. Serious doubt has been cast about the veracity of this story, yet it still makes for good filmmaking.

Portrait of a marriage miniseries

Portrait of a Marriage (1992) – This BBC miniseries explores the unconventional marriage of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. Though devoted to one another, they were free to follow their passions. She preferred women; and Nicolson preferred men. Famously, Vita and Virginia Woolf had what has long been accepted as at least an emotional affair.

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Cycle (1994) – Set in the 1920’s this film follows Dorothy Parker and the members of the Algonquin Round Table — the young writers of the New York literary world at the time. Viewers are quite divided on this one!

Out of Africa 1985 movie

Out of Africa (1985) – A multi-award-winning film (including best picture) about Isak Dinesen’s African sojourn, with Meryl Streep as the author and Robert Redford as her fickle love interest.

The Hours 2002 movie

The Hours (2002) – A trio of interwoven stories based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham, one of which is about Virginia Woolf, portrayed by Nicole Kidman. Though the theme that ties the stories together is suicide, it is gripping and wonderfully acted.

Sylvia Plath movie

Sylvia (2004) – Gwyneth Paltrow portrays poet Sylvia Plath, with Daniel Craig as her husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes. The film follows Plath through her life, showing her development as a writer, and the increasing depression that plagued her her entire life.

Miss Potter movie starring Renee Zellweger

Miss Potter (2007) – A charming film biography of Beatrix Potter, starring Renee Zellweger as the author who wrote and illustrated Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, and many other memorable animal stories.

Becoming Jane 2007 film

Becoming Jane (2007) – Starring Anne Hathaway, this film purportedly tells the untold story of a romance between Jane Austen and a young Irishman. It’s difficult to tell if the film is intended to be historically accurate or fanciful lark.

Daphne 2008 film biopic of Daphne du Maurier

Daphne (2008) – A drama about the life and controversial affairs of Daphne Du Maurier, most notably, her relationship with Gertrude Lawrence.

Cross Creek movie

Cross Creek (2009) – The life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on her Florida orange grove, charmingly portrayed by Mary Steenburgen. One of the better author biopics, in this writer’s opinion.

Beyond the Prairie - the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Beyond the Prairie (2010) – Claiming to be “The true life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” there’s always a fair amount of license taken in biopics, and this one about the author and her beloved husband, Almozo, is no different. Still, this could be entertaining for fans of the Little House books who can view it with a grain of salt.

Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) – Here’s the story of how Walt Disney lobbied Pamela (P.L.) Travers for film rights to Mary Poppins, and the challenges that ensued with the prickly author. Things didn’t tie up quite so neatly in real life as they did in this film. Still, it’s good entertainment, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.

A Quiet Passion — Emily Dickinson film scene
Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle in Terence Davies’s “A Quiet Passion,” about Emily Dickinson. Image courtesy Double Dutch International

A Quiet Passion (2017) – Film critics loved this one, but Emily Dickinson fans gave this biopic mixed reviews. A beautifully photographed film, one wonders how much “poetic license” was taken with the story of the brilliant poet who rarely strayed from her family’s Amherst home.

To walk invisible: the Brontë sisters

To Walk Invisible (2017) is a beautifully done Masterpiece Theater film about the Brontë sisters, their father, and their troublesome brother Branwell. 

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn film 1945 film Poster

You might also like:
Quiz: Who Are the 12 Women Authors Behind These 12 Classic Films?

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