With the film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth arriving on digital platforms May 8th and DVD/Blu-ray May 25th, Top 10 Films takes a look at a selection of great adapted memoirs…
Vera Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth, was a bestseller on release, and was the first piece of literature to fully address the full impact of World War I on the lives of women and the civilian population of Great Britain.
Brittain is played by Alicia Vikander in the film who exhibits the irrepressible, intelligent and free-minded woman who overcomes the prejudices of her family and hometown to win a scholarship to Oxford. With everything to live for, she falls in love with her brother’s close friend Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) as they go to University to pursue their literary dreams. But the First World War is looming and as the boys leave for the front Vera realises she cannot sit idly by as her peers fight for their country, so volunteers as a nurse. Both Vikander and Harington bring a wonderful playfulness to their initial courtship (with brilliant comedic support from Joanna Scanlan as their chaperone), and as the war separates them evolve this chemistry into something utterly moving.
To celebrate the release of the film adaptation, out on digital platforms from 8th May 2015, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 25th May 2015, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment, we look back on some of the best memoirs to be adapted to the big screen…
Angela’s Ashes (1999)
Based on the memoirs of Irish author Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes was co-written and directed by Alan Parker, and starred Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle as McCourt’s parents. Recounting his childhood, the film tracks McCourt (played by Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge at different points in his life) as he moves from America to Ireland due to financial difficulties, and his constant attempts to earn enough money to one day move back to the States.
A Mighty Heart (2007)
Mariane Pearl’s memoir A Mighty Heart was adapted for the screen by John Orloff, and recounted the real-life search for Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, played by Dan Futterman, who was kidnapped in Karachi by supporters of British terrorist Omar Sheikh. Daniel’s wife Mariane is played by Angelina Jolie in director Michael Winterbottom’s depiction of events which end in the most tragic way imaginable.
The Pianist (2002)
Roman Polanski’s adaptation of pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoirs was met with huge critical acclaim when released in 2002, and recounts the life of Szpilman (played by an Oscar-winning Adrien Brody), as he tried to survive the destruction of a Warsaw ghetto in WWII, escaping deportation and eluding capture by the Nazis by living in the ruins. Brody famously lost 14kg for the role, and got rid of his apartment and car to try and connect to the feelings of loss he felt were required to play the role.
My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Michelle Williams stars as the late Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis’ delightful adaptation of two books by Colin Clark which describe his experiences working on the production of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl, starring both Monroe and Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The film focuses on the week Monroe spent in London escorted by Clark – here played by the wide-eyed, utterly disarming Eddie Redmayne.
An Education (2009)
British film An Education was directed by Lone Scherfig and its script from author Nick Hornby was based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber. It recounts a tempestuous love affair she had in her teenage years with an older man, with the film starring Carey Mulligan in her first leading role, as the 16-year-old Jenny who becomes involved with Peter Sarsgaard’s Jewish businessman, David Goldman. There’s fantastic support from Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike as David’s fun, flighty friends who introduce Jenny to their lavish world – with Pike offering a particularly brilliant comedic turn as the ditzy Helen.
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
This Spanish biopic is based upon the memoir of 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara (played by Gael García Bernal) and recounts his 1952 expedition across South America alongside his friend Alberto Granado by motorcycle. Several years later, Ernesto would become known internationally as revolutionary Che Guevara, and in The Motorcycle Diaries he finds himself transformed by his observations on impoverished life that they encounter on their trek.
127 Hours (2010)
Aron Ralston’s much talked about memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place tells the story of how the adventurer became trapped by a boulder in Utah in April 2003, spawning Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours, in which James Franco plays Ralston. With his arm stuck behind a boulder for the majority of the running time, Boyle’s film does well in encapsulating Ralston’s incredible desire to live.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
This French biographical film is based on former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoirs of the same name, telling his incredible story: after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 43, Bauby was left with locked-in syndrome, a condition which paralysed him from the neck down, and led to his right eye being sewn up. With one eye left working, the only way Bauby could communicate was by blinking. Mathieu Amalric gives a stunning, heartbreaking performance in the lead role, and director Julian Schnabel won the best Golden Globe for best director.
This French-American animated film is based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, directed by the lady herself alongside Vincent Paronnaud. Following a young girl as she comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, the film tells the factual story of Satrapi, with the title referring to the historic New Persian city of Persepolis.
Testament of Youth is available on digital platforms from 8th May 2015, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 25th May 2015, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.