Each month, the Herstory Club curates a selection of films that complement our monthly theme. This collection will be female-focused – both in front of the camera and ideally behind too – and range from fiction to biopics of real women in history. The films we’ll be recommending aim to both entertain and educate, showcasing cult classics, new hits, and movies you may never have heard of.
Literature and film, arguably, go hand in hand. Whether you prefer the book to the film or vice versa, there’s a lot to be said for the way a good (or even bad!) adaptation can spark our imaginations. At the turn of the century, Hollywood loved adaptations of classic literature for the teenage girl audience: be it Emma in the form of Clueless (as if!), The Taming of the Shrew as 10 Things I Hate About You, or Twelfth Night reimagined as the endlessly quotable She’s The Man. Period drama adaptations of works by female authors are also always popular, from Autumn de Winter’s recent triumph Emma., staring Anya Taylor Joy, to multiple reincarnations of Little Women over the years, to Mia Wasikowska’s turn as the titular Jane Eyre. Other adaptations with women front and centre come in the form of the iconic meeting of fashion, journalism and judgement in The Devil Wears Prada, the heart-wrenching My Sister’s Keeper, and the beautifully shot Atonement.
Biopics of female authors always go down well. Anne Hathaway takes on Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, Renée Zellweger brings Beatrix Potter to life in Miss Potter, Gwyneth Paltrow tackles Sylvia Plath in Sylvia, Mary Steenburgen plays Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Cross Creek, and Cynthia Nixon is acclaimed American poet Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion. The charming Saving Mr Banks sees Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers as she grapples with her beloved book being adapted for the screen, Vita & Virginia explores the love affair between authors Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), and the critically acclaimed Iris follows the novelist Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench and Kate Winslet) through her student days to her battle with Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes, female characters just have a love for books and reading, or literature and the joys it holds forms the backdrop for a plot. Belle is ridiculed for her penchant for literature in Beauty and the Beast, and Matilda Wormwood finds solace in strength in her local library in Matilda. Meg Ryan owns charming independent book shop The Shop Around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail, Hollywood starlet Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is just a girl standing in front of a boy in a travel bookshop in Notting Hill, and an impromptu fashion shoot in a bookstore catapults the shop clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) to fame in Funny Face. The Jane Austen Book Club sees six Californians discuss the works of Jane Austen, and in one of the best parodies of regency romance and a celebration of those who love to read the genre, Austenland sees an Austen theme park as the backdrop for the pursuit of love (yes, really, and it’s brilliant).
Our top five films for this month feature a psychological thriller that attacked the ‘cool girl’ trope, a biopic of the mother of science fiction, a heart-breaking Korean tale espousing the power of words, an intertwined narrative of biopic and fiction that became best known for a prosthetic nose, and a film with the longest title but highest level of charm. Without further ado…
(2014, Dir.: David Fincher)
Based on the extraordinarily successful novel by Gillian Flynn (who writes the screenplay too) Gone Girl follows the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) as her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) deals with the fallout and attempts to unravel the truth while the media asks, did he kill his wife? Pike was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her chilling performance, the same year that producer Reese Witherspoon (who had obtained the film rights to the book in 2012) was also nominated for the same award for the adaptation of Wild. This psychological thriller is immensely gripping and upends the concept of likeable female characters.
Gone Girl is available to stream on Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, and to rent or buy on Apple TV+, Sky Store and Google Play
(2017, Dir.: Haifaa Al-Mansour)
This biopic follows the life of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning), whose meeting and subsequent marriage to Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) led to her writing ‘Frankenstein’. Haifaa Al-Mansour was the first female Saudi director to direct a Hollywood film, and in this period drama she paints the picture of a woman finding her own voice in the Regency era.
Mary Shelley is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, Apple TV+, and to rent on Curzon Home Cinema
(2010, Dir.: Lee Chang-dong)
Yang Mi-ja (Yun Jeong-hie) is a sixty-something woman who finds strength and purpose in a poetry class, in the wake of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and heinous family crime. The film is a portrait of a woman finding meaning through words before her grasp on language eludes her. Lee Chang-dong crafts a devastating and empathetic tale, writing the main part specifically for Yun – a huge star of Korean cinema in the 1960s and 1970s.
Poetry is available to rent or buy on Apple TV+
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
(2018, Dir.: Mike Newell)
Writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) forms a correspondence with members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – a group formed during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey in World War II. When she decides to visit the island to write a book about their wartime experiences, she unwittingly embarks on a journey that will change her life forever. Based on the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, it’s a charming adaptation that speaks to the power of literature to bring together a community and provide hope and solace in the darkest of hours.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is available to stream on Disney+, and to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, Sky Store and Apple TV+
(2002, Dir.: Stephen Daldry)
The novel ‘Mrs Dalloway’ links together three intertwining stories of women who have had to deal with suicide. While Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) writes the aforementioned novel, pregnant housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) can’t stop reading it in 1951, and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) plans a party for her author friend dying of A.I.D.S.. Kidman won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as the acclaimed author, and for the first time in history, all three women were awarded – jointly – the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival.
The Hours is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+
About the Author: Emma Forth
I’m a first year History PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. My research combines my passions for the First World War and film by exploring the development of early cinema, 1909-1918, across all four nations of the United Kingdom. For the last six months I have been producing the first database and maps of British and Irish cinemas in 1914, showcasing the position of cinema at the outbreak of the Great War. In a four-year hiatus from education prior to postgraduate study in 2018 I worked as a risk analyst; ran the admissions department in a high school; and was a receptionist and volunteer at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden. I am an avid reader, theatregoer, and cross-stitcher, and when not frantically Marie Kondo-ing my possessions and renovating my flat and during a pandemic, I can be found watching superhero films and dreaming of museums.