How to Make Films About Writers: With Sex, Suicide, and Conspiracies

'Anonymous' scandalizes Shakespeare in the latest Hollywood attempt to make authors into subjects of high drama

Anonymous's scandalizing of Shakespeare is the latest Hollywood attempt to make authors into subjects of high drama

writers adaptation nicolas cage 615.jpg

Columbia Tri-Star

Writing is boring to watch. But Hollywood still finds a way to make movies about real-world writers. Unlike with biopics about athletes, musicians, and artist, there's no visual appeal to a writer's craft. So you tend to end up with embellishments, falsifications, and gimmicks in films about authors (perhaps even more so than normal for movies). The struggle to pen a classic novel may play a role in these films, but often it's secondary to the role played by juicy romantic plot lines. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Anonymous, which arrives in theaters Friday, embodies this phenomenon perhaps more than any other film: Director Roland Emmerich has embraced a widely discredited conspiracy theory about William Shakespeare's authorship of his own works, and ladled a hefty extra helping of dramatic license on top of that. It's a movie ostensibly about writing and history that invents a nymphomaniac Queen Elizabeth. Does it get anymore ridiculous than that? Not really. But close. Below, a round up of other attempts to dramatize writers' lives. Each, in their own way, tries to make scribbling sexy.

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Spencer Kornhaber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Entertainment

Just In