From Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning turn as Truman Capote to Jane Campion’s subtly beautiful film on the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Bryce, and even to Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose in The Hours, these films about famous writers are a great way to dive even deeper into the books we love to read.
Released during the height of quarantine, Shirley is a tense biopic about the acclaimed horror writer Shirley Jackson. As you might have guessed, the person who wrote such creepy stories and novels makes for interesting content herself. Author Susan Scarf Merrell wrote the novel of the same name that the movie was based on. The story is reminiscent of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—a young couple comes to stay with Jackson and her professor husband, and the unsettling events that follow inspire Jackson to write her next book.
Recommended reading: Shirley, by Susan Scarf Merrell, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Related: The Best Outraged Reactions to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"
This 2005 film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman follows the story of Truman Capote’s true crime “novel” In Cold Blood, from the genesis of the idea to Capote’s harrowing experience falling in with the perpetrators and the truth behind one of the most senseless, notorious crimes in American History.
Recommended Reading: In Cold Blood
In this simply gorgeous film, director Jane Campion explores the little-known love affair between poet John Keats (Ben Winshaw) and Fanny Bryce (Abbie Cornish). Spoiler alert: there’s no happy ending to their love story, due to Keats’ poor health and premature death at the age of 25.
Recommended Reading: The Collected Poems of John Keats
This Oscar winning film, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham, stars Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep in a series of intertwined stories all revolving around Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, and and how the creative temperament affects each woman and their respective families.
Recommended Reading: Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours
Though Gwyneth Paltrow was met with criticism as the choice to play mega-poet Sylvia Plath in this 2003 biopic, the truth is, the movie isn’t all that bad, and neither is Paltrow. With Daniel Craig as the brooding Yorkshire poet (and Plath’s husband) Ted Hughes, this beautiful but tragic movie has its moments, and will make you crack open your college edition of Plath’s poems again.
Recommended Reading: The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath
Kate Winslet and Judi Dench star respectively as the Irish novelist Iris Murdoch in this fantastic film that tells of her tragic decline into Alzheimer’s Disease, and her relationship with her husband John Bayley. The film is based on Bayley’s memoir, Elegy for Iris, but . She was the author of over 20 spectacular novels.
Recommended Reading: The Sea, The Sea
The End of the Tour
David Foster Wallace is a much beloved cult figure in the literary community, mostly for his monolithic novel Infinite Jest. The End of the Tour is based on the true story of a writer (played by Jesse Eisenberg)’s journey to interview Wallace (played surprisingly well by the comedic actor Jason Segel) for Rolling Stone.
Recommended Reading: Consider the Lobster, or, for the brave, Infinite Jest
The true story of Oscar Wilde’s despicable treatment at the hands of the British government—being tried and imprisoned for sodomy (due to his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie, as Wilde called him)—is the tragic story behind this film, with star performances by Stephen Fry as Wilde, and a very young Jude Law as Bosie.
Recommended Reading: The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and De Profundis
Anne Hathaway takes on Jane Austen in this rather silly yet charming 2007 film. Though Hathaway was met with disapproval for daring to be American and play Austen, the chemistry between her and James McAvoy, who plays Austen’s love interest, is delightful. This film leaves you wanting to know more about Austen’s life outside of her genius novels.
Recommended Reading: Persuasion
Book to Movie Adaptations Streaming on Netflix Now
10 Captivating Writer Biographies
Feature photo from Capote, via Sony Pictures