The Best Literary Biopics
Judy Dench in Elizabeth
This picture released by Miramax Films shows actress Judy Dench playing Queen Elizabeth I in the film "Shakespeare in Love". Dench has been nominated February 9, 1999 for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role category by the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences. (photo Miramax/Laurie Sparham)

The Best Literary Biopics

Francesca Herring September 10, 2022

Many celebrities nowadays are subject to having a biopic made about them. Take Rocketman, or Bohemian Rhapsody, for example. But it’s not just the celebrities of our day having their lives turned into movies. It’s some of literature’s best loved authors, too. Here are some of the finest literary-based biopics around.

Tolkien (2019)

J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the most prestigious fantasy writers in history. He is responsible for the creation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, and many more of literature’s best loved books and characters. A biopic released about Tolkien’s early life in 2019. It stars Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins as Tolkien and his wife, Edith Bratt. 

The film follows Tolkien as a young boy, up until his enlisting in World War II and his part in The Battle of the Somme. One of the reasons that this biopic has such acclaim is because it shows the man behind the fantasy creations. It is about Tolkien’s life prior to his success as an author. In fact, the very ending of the film is the only indication of Tolkien’s future success.

It is a great film because it shows his (unknown at the time) inspiration for his books. For instance, we meet his wife, Edith Bratt, who served as inspiration for some of his characters. Tolkien is a biopic that serves as a legacy to the prized author.

Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

Wilde (1997)

Stephen Fry stars as Oscar Wilde in his biopic about Britain’s much-loved decadent writer. Oscar Wilde is best known for his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and his play, The Importance of Being Earnest. In this biopic, we see a private side to Wilde’s life. It was known when he was writing that Wilde was a gay man engaging in numerous affairs with London’s literary elite.

Stephen Fry shows the side to Wilde’s life that includes his prison time for his sexuality and further mistreatment. While Wilde is known for his lavish and hedonistic lifestyle, this biopic demonstrates that it wasn’t all like this for Wilde. The biopic has received praise for its honesty on the treatment of gay men in early 1900s Britain. It has also been nominated for several awards, and so have the cast. Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave and Michael Sheen also star in the film. Fry himself has received critical acclaim for his performance and notable resemblance to Oscar Wilde himself. 

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

One of the quirkier biopics on here, but a great one nonetheless. Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow star opposite each other as William Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps. The biopic documents Shakespeare’s writer’s block during the process of writing Romeo and Juliet. He meets Viola de Lesseps in peculiar circumstances and the two have an affair. It’s funny and romantic, but it does have some truth behind it. 

Amongst the characters, there’s Christopher Marlowe, Richard Burbage and Queen Elizabeth I. It’s definitely one of the best biopics for any Shakespeare lovers out there.

Emily Brontë is the next author to receive the Hollywood treatment, with an upcoming biopic about her set to release in October 2022. It stars Emma Mackey and looks great! 

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I'm an English Literature student at the University of Birmingham, and I'm obsessed with anything literature related! I love reading, watching F1, and listening to music. I've always loved writing articles on my interests and can't wait to get stuck into more journalism.