I recently watched the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for the first time in many years. In fact, it has been so long since I last saw it, I’d forgotten most of the story line. It was like coming to an old friend and meeting for the first time – or something like that.
Until pointed out by my daughter, I did not realise that the character played by George Peppard was a writer. This seems somewhat incidental to the plot, however. We certainly hear very little about the writing process in the movie, and rarely see him actually writing. Early in the movie, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) observes that he does not even have a ribbon in his typewriter, so he mustn’t be much of a writer. When he does sit at his typewriter I was amused to see him using basically only two fingers. Some writer.
Still, despite the drawbacks, he does have some limited writing success, receiving a cheque for fifty dollars as part of the story. I guess he never felt the urge to take his writing seriously. His wealthy sponsor ensured he rarely had time for actual writing anyway.
The recent movie Finding Neverland (released in 2004) starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet is a somewhat fictionalized version of a part of the life of British writer J.M. Barrie. The movie’s plot is focussed mainly on the friendship the author had with the children of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. It is a moving film about the author’s struggle to maintain his credibility as an author while his marriage is beginning to crumble. At the same time his friendship with the children and their ailing mother brings some lighter, happier moments to his life, and inspires him to write his classic story Peter Pan, the work for which he is best known.
The movie never really deals much with the process of writing except for several scenes where Barrie is shown in the park writing in a notebook. What is understated is Barrie’s ability to take real life situations and use these experiences to fantasize and dream. The young Freddie Highmore as Peter does a superb job as his character struggles to come to terms with the death of his father and his mother’s illness. He is Barrie’s inspiration for the character Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up.
I found it a strangely moving film. The pace is slow, the dialogue introspective and the atmosphere somewhat moody. It shows very well that, for many writers, their personal lives impact strongly on their writing lives. The oft quoted mantra by teachers of writing, “write what you know” is clearly illustrated through this film as Barrie draws on real life situations to inspire his writing. It also shows the power of dreaming and the potency of using one’s imagination, even in the face of tragedy.
Links: Finding Neverland – the official website, including the trailer.
Like so many others who went to school and university in English speaking countries, I studied a number of Shakespearean plays and poems as part of my education. I must admit though that the enduring image of Shakespeare in my mind was of a successful playwright who never struggled with life and the demands of the writer’s life like other mere mortals. I guess I had him placed, not so much on a pedestal, but rather on a mountaintop.
The Shakespeare portrayed in the movie Shakespeare in Love shows a writer really struggling with words, struggling to make a living, feeling pressured by critics, his patron and writer’s block. Over the course of the film we see the haphazard writing process employed to get the play finished on time for the production, the distraction of falling desperately in love and the many pressures brought to bear on this creative genius. This portrayal of a struggling author is far removed from the image I have entertained for all these years.
Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola carry the movie brilliantly.
A movie I very much enjoy watching is Moulin Rouge starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. It is lively, fast moving, entertaining with uplifting and inspirational music.
Ewan McGregor plays the part of Christian, a penniless starving writer who desires to write about love. There is just one problem; he’s never been in love. He moves to the Moulin Rouge in Paris and begins to write his great love story, tapping out the words on an old typewriter while living alone in the classical writer’s garret.
He meets Satine, played by Nicole Kidman and instantly falls in love, not knowing she is a courtesan. Of course there are many complications but I won’t bore you here with them; see the movie or read an outline of the plot here. (It doesn’t give the ending).
Not only is it an entertaining movie but it also gives some insights into the writing process. It is hard, lonely and often difficult to become established as a writer. Set in an era when sponsorship of writers was the norm it highlights the struggles of a young, enthusiastic but inexperienced author.
I was first drawn to the movie Iris because it starred Judi Dench in the lead role. She plays the role of the author Iris Murdoch. I am a great admirer of the acting of Judi Dench. She plays each character with a genuine understanding of the role. She makes acting look so easy, so natural and always so endearing.
In this role she is superb, playing the aging writer Iris Murdoch. Kate Winslet does a credible performance as the young Iris. As the writer ages she steadily succumbs to debilitating Alzheimer’s. She brings a poignant portrayal of the struggles with words and ideas, a land foreign to this intellectual giant of earlier years.
It is compelling viewing. Jim Broadbent also does an excellent job as the life-long soul mate and husband of Iris.
As yet I have yet to read any of Murdoch’s writing. I must make the effort soon.
- Iris Murdoch – a short biography of the author.
- Iris Murdoch – article in Wikipedia about the author; includes a bibliography of her works.
In the comments section tell me about other movies about writers that you have enjoyed. They can be either films about real authors, or feature characters playing the part of an author.