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Biopics of writers

“Biopics”, or films about the lives of the famous, have their place. According to this report, the US actor Leonardo di Caprio, who played Howard Hughes in “The Aviator” – which I thoroughly enjoyed – is lining up to play Ian Fleming, who would have been 100 on 28 May (the same birthday as your humble blogger). Hmm, not sure whether that is great casting. There was a film made a few years back with Charles Dance that did the job rather well.

For Fleming fans, this biography by Andrew Lycett is strongly recommended. John Pearson’s biography is also good.

Talking of famous writers, though, here are some people I reckon would make for quite good biopics:

Victor Hugo
A. Dumas
Saki (Hector Munro)
Robert Byron
Evelyn Waugh
F. Scott Fitzgerald
E. Hemingway
James Baldwin
Jonathan Swift
Patrick Leigh-Fermor

By the way, my list does not imply that I necessarily admire or like all the writers, only that they are interesting as subjects of film.

So give your suggestions if you have others.

Update: several writers are unimpressed by di Caprio. I think he was okay as H. Hughes but as I said, I have my doubts as to whether he will be able to play Fleming well. Fleming was an old Etonian, a bit of an eccentric but despite all his possible foibles and failings, a first-class writer and journalist with a great eye for detail. I fear the Hollywood movie-makers will want to focus on his womanising. I suppose this is inevitable.

28 comments to Biopics of writers

  • Ah, and Cervantes.
    Fought at Lepanto, became a slave in Algiers and rose to the rank of counselor to the Sultan, was ransomed, returned to Spain and was give the job of paymaster in the Army, embezzled funds, was imprisoned, and wrote in prison Don Quixote, which became instantly famous.

  • I second Cervantes, a truly interesting bloke!

  • A Detour

    Not famous, but would make one hell of a film: Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln.

  • Elizabeth

    Josef Roth–fights for the KUK against the Communists, joins the Communists, becomes disillusioned during the Russian Civil War, journalist in Berlin during the roaring 20s, authors the ‘radetzky march’, the ’emperor’s tomb’ and some of the best feuilliton essays in the German language, rails against the atavistic new cretinism, flees to Paris, refuses to immigrate on principle, drinks himself to death & dies in a cafe at his table.

  • Jacob,
    Mark Twain’s life is truly the most fascinating in American literature. He managed to document the steamboat era, the American Civil War, the gold rush, and the Gilded Age. He made a fortune, lost it, and then travelled the world to repay his creditors.
    The loss of his family is one of the most heartbreaking stories ever told.

    With all of that wonderful raw material, Hollywood produced “The Adventures of Mark Twain” – truly one of the most godawful pieces of crap to ever be projected onto a screen. Frederic March plays Twain.

    It’s complete garbage with no redeeming value at all, and is worth seeking out and watching for that reason.

  • permanentexpat

    Harry Browne, who made it all abundantly clear in “How I found freedom in an unfree world”…and then, incredibly, forgot what he had written.

  • bloke

    I would rather look off into space than write about a writer.

  • K

    I would have enjoyed “The Aviator” more if the lead role had not been played by a 12 year old boy. That and the obsessive examination of Hughes’ illness made it a movie about a mentally ill person who built airplanes and filmed movies.

    An Ian Flemming biopic deserves better. Certainly any writer who uses names such as “Pussy Galore” for his female characters had more male hormones in his little finger than Mr. DeCaprio does in his . . . well you get the idea.

  • Julian Taylor

    I doubt you could fit Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s life into one movie, a quite astounding character. Perhaps a remake of ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’ – where PLM and his Cretan resistance fighters (not British commandoes as the film makes out) tricked their way into the German commander’s fortress, captured General Heinrich Kreipe and evacuated him across the island to a waiting submarine.

  • Mark Twain’s life is truly the most fascinating in American literature.

    It’s one of the most fascinating of all lives, not just American literature.

    As to Cervantes – what is remarkable is that though he had published poems and stories before, he achieved his immortal fame at the ripe age of 58, when Don Quixote was published in 1605.

  • Oh dear Mr P, I’m going to have to be very strict on myself here, and limit myself to just three:

    1. Brutus, first King of the Britons (with Britain being named after him), who was the great-Grandson of Aeneas of Troy (therefore distantly related to Julius Caesar). Think of this for the plot of a movie. Brutus grows up in Italy; he shoots his father Sylvius in a hunting accident; he is banished from Italy; he sails to Greece and frees thousands of the descendants of Trojan slaves, his kinsmen, thereby making himself a libertarian hero; he sails out of the Mediterranean with this freed people; after many adventures he lands at Totnes and founds Albion (the land of the White Goddess) approx. 1,000 BC; His friend Corineus founds the separate Kingdom of Cornwall (after whom Cornwall is named, via the term Kernow). If that’s not enough, for an epilog, a thousand years later, another descendant of Aeneas, Julius Caesar, scion of the Patricians, the Trojan-descended Romans, also lands in Kent to find there before him the Britons, another group of Trojan-descended peoples. Crikey! What a story. I’m amazed it hasn’t already been filmed, but I suppose it would be easily confused with Arthurian tales, many of which are based upon Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”. (Later, of course, Caesar is assassinated by another more famour Brutus, which could add even more interest to the plot – we could make him a descendant of the British Brutus gaining revenge for Caesar’s invasion of Britain). All this could be shot in the same style as the Beowulf film, with Ray Winstone as Corineus, Anthony Hopkins as Sylvius, and Daniel Craig as Brutus, because a young Kirk Douglas is unavailable. Marvellous.

    2. Herodotus. The author of “The Histories” either saw all the great things of the ancient world with his own eyes, or met those people who had seen everything with their own eyes. If there isn’t a film plot in there somewhere, then I’m Gunga Din. I would have Daniel Day-Lewis as the lead role, in this one. Or, for English Patient fun, we could have Ralph Fiennes, to help him get away from all of those horrible roles he’s been typed into recently. Fantastic.

    3. Ludwig von Mises (come on, you must have been expecting this? 🙂 A young Jewish boy grows up in Poland, moves to Vienna, establishes himself as one of the great academics, fights as an artillery officer in the First World War, destroys socialism in his book of the same name, which persuades Hayek, an upthrusting young socialist, to come to the light side; this book, “Socialism”, also predicts the downfall of the Soviet Union, and correctly works out how this will eventually come about – the inability of socialism to calculate. He then single-handedly prevents Austria falling into the same financial chaos as the Weimar republic. Hitler then singles him out as a Jewish enemy of the Germanic peoples. He escapes to Geneva, just before his flat back in Vienna is ransacked by Nazi goons. The Second World War forces him from Geneva. At one point, as the Wehrmacht sweeps through France, the bus upon which Von Mises sits is almost captured. Our hero then makes it out, to arrive in New York at age 60, without being able to speak English (very well). He then writes the greatest libertarian non-fiction book in history, Human Action, in English, also helping Ayn Rand (who would be my 4th biopic person) by providing her with an economic framework for the greatest libertarian fiction book in history, Atlas Shrugged. Von Mises survives the war years in haphazard fashion, because only socialist emigres can get American University posts. He is helped out by Hayek, in London, who sends him collectors books to sell on. Eventually, he scrapes a living together at a New York university and forms his famous seminar, thus discovering the subject of my 5th biopic, Uncle Murray, and setting him on his way. The film ends with Von Mises wandering through the white mountains of New Hampshire being overplayed with images from his past, plus the primary image of the future, which he predicted, the falling of the Berlin War. By God, it would be a great film. Who to star in the leading role? Difficult, as it spans several generations, but I think we could hazard a chance with Bruno Ganz, at least for the later stages, with Jürgen Prochnow in there somewhere. For the younger Von Mises? Tricky. I’d let Herr Ganz work out that one. Epilog potential? It has to be several related shots. First we have Hitler leafing through “Nationalökonomie”, and then about to throw it on the fire, but then relenting and putting it to one side. We then focus in on this book, then drag the camera back out to see Stalin is now reading it (after the Red Guards stormed the Berlin Chancellery, all of Von Mises’ papers were taken back to Moscow – we’d blur over Stalin’s ability, or otherwise to read German). We’d then have Stalin putting the book to one side, and then we could have the Berlin wall coming down, brought down with hammers in the hands of human actors, overlayed with this book. Magnificent.

  • Sorry, got carried away there on Brutus, who was probably a writer, but never published I presume. Can I “delete all Brutus and insert”, with Geoffrey of Monmouth, the writer of the “History of the Kings of Britain”?

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_of_Monmouth

  • JP,
    I’m going to be pedantic. It’s Leonardo di Caprio not Leonard.

    I want some of whatever Jack is Maturin coz I’m fucking scoobied by his post.

  • Nick

    Nevlis Shute would be a great candidate, especially his work during WW2.

  • Nick

    Um sorry, Nevil Shute (or Nevil Shute Norway), I shouldn’t post before I’ve had my coffee.

  • amos

    Abellard + Helloise

  • George Orwell.

    Lord Byron.

    Richard Francis Burton (more than a writer, or course).

    Ernie Pyle.

    A.J. Liebling.

    Agreed on Waugh, Cervantes, Dickens, Voltaire.

  • nostalgic

    How about Arthur Koestler?

  • BenSix

    A few initial thoughts:

    James Hogg

    I second Byron, though I’m not sure whether an honest biopic would get past the censors.

  • Richard Francis Burton

    My personal hero.

    Except it has been partially done(Link)

  • PS> Who wrote the Bible (old testament), or at least did the final edit on it? Was it Enoch? If it was, what about a biopic on him? Because if any writer has had the greatest effect on western civilisation, it’s not Plato, it’s not even Aristotle, it’s got to be whoever wrote/compiled/edited the final cut of the Jewish Bible.

  • Though not a writer and previously (badly) done, Baron Reuter would be a good biopic, especially in his stance against State control of his output, resulting in his plea to the House of Lords.

    p.s. The Aviator: I thought Cate Blanchet was very good.


  • Nick E

    I would love to see a biopic about Henry Miller. Failing that, one about Camus would also be nice.

  • http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20187351,00.html

    Looks like someone agrees on Tolstoy.

  • Petronius

    Robert Heinlien

  • manuel II paleologos

    Francois Rabelais

    A fine libertarian and author of the best will in history:

    Je n’ai rien, je dois beaucoup, je donne le reste aux pauvres

    (I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor)

  • Paul Marks

    Jack Maturin.

    Your May 17th, 1224pm comment was a wild flight of fancy – I wish I had written it.