Storylines In Review

Upcoming Attractions
-A series of blog posts on upcoming film or tv releases, storyline by storyline.

The ‘Artist In The Making’ Storyline 2018

Left: Goodbye Christopher Robin, and [mouse over] Mary Shelley
This storyline focuses on the circumstances that gave us a well-known artist or a particular key work. The implication is this is set in his or her formative years, but the perspective is always looking back in some sense, from success to struggle. Thus, we also get dramas set during later periods of the artist’s life, either some mid-life crisis, or some ‘swan song’ episode where the artist as we know him or her performed in public for the last time. In other words, these dramas can be set at the beginning, middle or end of their careers. It includes autobiographically based dramas where the protagonist is a surrogate figure standing in for the artist. (However in the case of A Star Is Born, which is now in its 4th screen incarnation [pictured left], it proved impossible to place its inspiration on a single artist/relationship, especially since the setting went from the film biz to the music biz in the 1970s - rumours abound.)

However, some instances represent a romanticised view, making the behind-the-scenes story, which should be realistic where it is based on a real-life figure, into a stereotype. This was generally a problem with Hollywood biopics about artists, and it still continues, as the example at left indicates.


Below are several dozen upcoming titles listed A-Z by artist. This is possible as nearly all are about real-life artists. This omits films about fictional or rather fictitious writers, though the only currrent/ upcoming examples here seem to be The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, which looks like a crossover with the 'away-break crisis' storyline, where we now have it listed, and Really Love, scripted by Felicia A. Pride and director Angel Kristi Williams. This is a romantic drama which “follows the life of a starving artist in gentrifying Washington D.C. who is struggling to find his place in the prestigious art world. When a young law student unexpectedly comes into his life, he must choose between a whirlwind romance and his budding career as a successful painter.”

A-Z Of Upcoming Releases, By Artist/Subject

George Antheil: Adapted by Reinhard Denke from Antheil’s autobiography Bad Boy Of Music, Radiant “centers around early 20th century musical radical and multi-hyphenate Antheil and his unlikely friendship with movie star Hedy Lamarr.”
Nelly Arcan: Written by its Canadian director Anne Émond, the French-Canadian drama [made in 2016 but not yet shown outside film festivals] Nelly is based partly on the Montreal sex worker’s semi-autobiographical novel Putain [Whore]. Arcan wrote 4 books before committing suicide in 2009. Émond: “she is one of our best writers here in Quebec, but I was also disturbed by her. She had a very strange public presence, she was physically very ‘fake’, her speeches and media appearances were disconcerting. She was very smart, and at the same time, very annoying… When I learned about her suicide in the news, I immediately thought about iconic artists: Virginia Woolf, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Seberg, Sylvia Plath, and later Amy Winehouse. It made me ask myself delicate questions. Do we, as female artists, have to suffer? I mean, do we have to die to be taken seriously?”
Leonard Bernstein: Written by Josh Singer and its star and director Bradley Cooper, this centenary biopic is “A portrait of Leonard Bernstein's singular charisma and passion for music as he rose to fame as America's first native born, world-renowned conductor, all along following his ambition to compose both symphonic and popular Broadway works.”

George Carlin: A biopic of the American ‘alternative’ standup comedian is being written by ‘Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated screenwriter Stan Chervin’ [Moneyball].
Angela Carter: Angela Carter: Of Wolves & Women, a 1-hr BBC documentary-drama about the life and work of the author of Company Of Wolves etc, debuted on BBC2 in August 2018 and released on iPlayer.

Colette: Written in 2001 by director Wash Westmoreland and his [late] partner/husband Richard Glatzer, Colette focuses on the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette [best known abroad for Gigi] and her first marriage to another author who stole credit for works she had written. (“When Colette starts ghostwriting for him and her writing goes beyond anything he’s ever written, it becomes a popular widespread brand that leads to her fighting for rights to her work. This spills into Colette blazing a trail to overcome oppressive gender roles and societal constraints, making her revolutionize literature, fashion, and sexual expression.”)


Above: Keira Knightley and Dominic West as Colette and Henry Gauthier-Villars.

Salvador Dali: Written by John Walsh and director Mary Harron, the feature biopic Dali Land will focus on "the unusual marriage of the surrealist artist and his domineering 'wife and muse', Gala". ("In 1973, a young gallery assistant goes on a wild adventure behind the scenes as he helps the aging genius Salvador Dali prepare for a big show in New York.")
Sammy Davis Jr: Just announced is a feature biopic based in part on Davis's 1965 bestselling memoir "Yes, I Can: The Story Of Sammy Davis, Jr." ("…beginning as a child star in Vaudeville and progressing over the decades to be one of the most popular entertainers in the world. He conquered the mediums of stage, screen, records and television … Davis also broke barriers during the Jim Crow era of segregation.")
Charles Dickens: The Personal History Of David Copperfield, a new adaptation of CD's autobiographically inspired novel is being adapted by Simon Blackwell and director Armando Iannucci. (A more direct, though fictionalised biopic, The Man Who Invented Christmas, scripted by Susan Coyne from Les Standiford's Dickens bio, about CD's supposed ghostly inspiration for A Xmas Carol, is already out, but evidently has not yet had much of a mainstream release - it may resurface in the xmas tv schedules.)
Emily Dickinson: Dickinson is a half-hour comedy series written by Alena Smith (The Affair) for Apple. ("Dickinson is set during Emily Dickinson's era with a modern sensibility and tone. It takes viewers into the world of Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), audaciously exploring the constraints of society, gender, and family from the perspective of a budding writer who doesn't fit in to her own time through her imaginative point of view. Dickinson is Emily's coming-of-age story - one woman's fight to get her voice heard.")
The American poetess is also the protagonist of A Quiet Passion, a biopic written and directed by British filmmaker Terence Davies, released [not widely] in 2017.

Blaze Foley: The biopic Blaze, written by director Ethan Hawke and Sybil Rosen, based on her memoir Living In The Woods In A Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley is inspired by the life of "the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas outlaw music movement that spawned the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson … the film explores his love affair with Rosen; his final performance in a near-empty honky-tonk; his last, dark night on earth; and the impact that his songs and his death had on his fans, friends, and foes."

James Frey: The R-rated drama A Million Little Pieces is adapted by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his life-partner director Sam Taylor-Johnson, from Frey's controversial 2003 book [a 'memoir' which proved largely fictional]. ("A young drug-addled writer approaching the bottom of his descent submits to two months of agonizing detox at a treatment center in Minnesota.")

Above: Ezra Miller as Young Salvador in Dali Land

Above: Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion

Judy Garland: The feature Judy, adapted by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter (from Quilter’s stage play "End Of The Rainbow"), covers her 1968 final London concert tour the year before her death.

Gloria Grahame: Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, scripted by Paul McGuigan from Peter Turner’s memoir, is another drama covering an actress’s final years - “the true story of the unexpected romance that bloomed between a young English actor (Jamie Bell) and an aging Hollywood diva —Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), remembered for her turns in It’s a Wonderful Life and The Bad and the Beautiful”.

Pam Grier: The actress is developing her own life story as a biopic with the working title Pam, scripted by Bennie Richburg from Grier’s own memoir. (Though better-known now for the Tarantino film Jackie Brown, PG had a career which blossomed in the ‘blaxploitation’ boom of the 70s, while she lived with 70s black male celebrities Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Richard Pryor and Freddie Prinze.)

George Frederick Handel: The comedy-drama Hallelujah! written by Jon Croker and Nicholas Adams, will focus on the Georgian court composer (to be played by Ralph Fiennes), as he prepares for the premiere of his masterpiece, 'Messiah'.


Above and left: Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Shirley Jackson: The feature drama Shirley is being adapted by Sarah Gubbins from Susan Scarf Merrell’s 2014 novel, which tells the story of a young couple who move in with the famous horror author and her husband in their 1950s Vermont college town.
Elton John: The biopic Rocketman, written by Lee Hall [Billy Elliot, War Horse etc] is scheduled for 2019. Paramount describes it as “an epic musical fantasy about the uncensored human story of Sir Elton John's breakthrough years.”
James Joyce: James And Lucia, written by director Robert Mullan, will focus on the nearly-blind expatriate author’s relationship with his schizophrenic daughter, whose fragmented speech patterns may have helped inspire the prose style of his experimental final novel Finnegans Wake.
Adam Kay: This Is Going To Hurt will be an 8 x 45-min BBC Two comedy-drama series adapted by former junior doctor turned tv writer/performer Adam Kay from his own recently-published bestselling memoir of his NHS days. (“Set on a labour ward, it documents the heart-lifting highs and gut-wrenching lows, offering a brutally honest depiction of life as a junior doctor and the toll the job can take back home. Kay scribbled his diaries in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, and tells of the 97-hour weeks, the life and death decisions, the constant tsunami of bodily fluids and the fact the hospital parking meter earns more than doctors.”)
Doug Kenney: Already in release (or has it escaped?) is Netflix’s A Futile And Stupid Gesture, a comedy biopic of the co-creator of National Lampoon magazine, adapted by John Aboud and Michael Colton from the biography by Josh Karp, covering the magazine’s 1970s “rise and fall.” (After co-writing the hit films Animal House and Caddyshack, Kenney died of a drug OD, age 33.)

Laurel and Hardy: The BBC tv drama feature Stan And Ollie written by Jeff Pope covers the pair’s poorly-attended farewell tour of Britain in 1953, which took them to Glasgow, where Laurel had begun his on-stage career. [Note – this was announced last year as Stan And Ollie On Monday In The West Country.]

Vivien Leigh: This yet-untitled FremantleMedia tv series [with the star played by Natalie Dormer] is being adapted by Stewart Harcourt [Churchill’s Secret], drawing partly on Kendra Bean’s 2013 biography, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. “the aim is to center each episode on a specific project the Streetcar Named Desire actor worked on. In that context of 1940s Hollywood and its shell of glamour and global scope, plus Tony Award winner Leigh’s 20-year marriage to Laurence Olivier, issues of mental health, career, female empowerment or the lack thereof, and love will be explored in the series.”

L.S. Lowry: This biopic, written by Martyn Hesford [Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!], is titled Mrs Lowry & Son as it details the painter’s life with his bed-bound but domineering mother, with whom he lived all his life, despite her dismissive attitude to his art. (“... a rent collector by day, Lowry took art classes in the evening and painted into the early hours to become one of the most significant artists of the 20th Century.”)

Hattie McDaniel: A biopic is in development about the 'Gone With the Wind' supporting star [born to former slaves], who was nearly blocked by segregation rules from attending the Oscars ceremony where she won Best Supporting Actress.

Robert Mapplethorpe: The biopic Mapplethorpe, adapted by Mikko Alanne and director Ondi Timoner, about the American avant-garde NYC-based photographer whose work became a cause celebre before his premature death in 1989 age 42 from AIDS, apparently focuses on his life, “from moments before he and Patti Smith moved into the famed Chelsea hotel in the early ’70s, where he begins photographing its inhabitants and newfound circle of friends including artists and musicians, socialites, film stars and members of the S&M underground. The boundary-pushing work made him one arguably one of the most important artists of the 20th century.”

Freddie Mercury: Now in post-production, Bohemian Rhapsody, scripted by Anthony McCarten from a story by him and Peter Morgan, is about the lead singer’s return to the concert circuit with his rock band Queen, with flashbacks to earlier days. “Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music.”

Michelangelo: Written by South African author Richard Mason, the scripted drama Michelangelo, in early development at Hulu, “will detail the life of the brilliant and troubled artist, told through a modern lens that delves into the sexuality, relationships, alliances and betrayals in the volatile world of 16th Century Florence.”

Christopher Robin Milne: Not to be confused with last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin [which focused on how the Pooh stories came to be, post-WWI], this Disney production, scripted by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder is from a story by Perry, and simply titled Christopher Robin. (An alternate credits list gives the script as by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder, from a story by Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson.) This finds the now-grown subject /muse/ source of inspiration (of his father AA Milne's 4 volumes of poems and prose stories) in midlife crisis just after WW2, having lost touch with his inner child. “An adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is an overworked London businessman who’s apparently not been spending nearly enough time with wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). When he’s ordered to work yet another weekend, Christopher’s stuffed childhood pals arrive to set things right.” (While the former film was fact-based, the new one seems just a stock Disneyesque setup for a parable about not losing touch with your childhood. In reality, CR as an adult found his complex literary role uncomfortable and later wrote a memoir, The Enchanted Places, pub. 1974, trying to put his childhood memories in context. He was not really a 'London businessman' but from 1951 ran a bookshop in Dartmouth.)

Sir James Murray: The language scholar Murray was the compiler of the original Oxford English Dictionary, and The Professor And The Madman is based on the 1998 nonfiction book by journalist Simon Winchester, adapted by Winchester, John Boorman, Todd Komarnicki and director Farhad Safinia. (A definitive literary reference work, the 12-volume OED was the first dictionary organised on 'historical principles', tracing the etymology and evolution of words and meanings, and took 70 years to complete.) The largely self-taught Murray had to work without university support, and in fact the OED’s major outside contributor was a US Army surgeon convicted of murder, who had been driven mad by his military experiences and was a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane.

Above: Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as Laurel and Hardy


Left: Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in Mrs Lowry & Son

Above: Matt Smith in Mapplethorpe

Above: Mel Gibson as Scottish lexicographer and philologist Sir James Murray in The Professor And The Madman

Left and immediately below -The 21-episode series Genius: Picasso.


Nureyev: The White Crow, directed by Ralph Fiennes from a script by David Hare based on Julie Kavanaugh's book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life, ‘charts the iconic dancer's famed defection from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961, despite KGB efforts to stop him’.
Boris Pasternak: We Were Never Here, adapted from Lara Prescott’s debut novel, recounts the true story of how the CIA covertly got Pasternak’s banned 1950s novel Doctor Zhivago published as an anti-Communist tactic.
Picasso: The 2018 series created by director Ken Biller titled Genius: Picasso or simply Genius seems to be ongoing, having at least 10 of its projected 21 ‘chapters’ in the can [IMDB episode list here], with Antonio Banderas as the young and then not-so-young artist working his way through the political and personal crises of the time. (cf: “Picasso: Chapter One - Pablo Picasso confronts the threat of fascism in Spain, and Young Pablo rejects traditional painting to search for his own voice.”)
Beatrix Potter: The 10-part Canada/UK family-oriented tv series Beatrix And Peter,
in pre-production for delivery in 2020, is 'based on the early life of British children's author and her relationship with her pet rabbit.'
Burt Reynolds: The late Hollywood star plays a character paralleling his own career downturn, in The Last Movie Star, written by director Adam Rifkin. A faded star invited to receive a “lifetime achievement” award in Nashville is forced to accept his career is well behind him when he discovers the event is a low-rent affair. (The film seems to have gone straight to disc, but may get more exposure since BR's death in Sep.)
Gerhard Richter: Hollywood Reporter notes re the 188-min biopic Werk Ohne Auteur / Never Look Away, written by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck [The Lives Of Others], "While nominally focused on the life and work of fictional artist Kurt Barnert from Dresden, this is really a thinly veiled biopic of one of Germany’s most popular contemporary painters, Gerhard Richter" [fl. 1937-66]. (Venice Film Fest review here.)
Fred Rogers: You Are My Friend, a biopic of the Mister Rogers Neighborhood tv series (1968–2001) creator/ presenter/ writer/ musician, to star Tom Hanks, is being developed by writer-director Marielle Heller.
Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf: Vita And Virginia (2018), written by Eileen Atkins, is based on the letters the two writers exchanged during their 1920s affair.
Shakespeare: The third series of the satiric BBC sitcom Upstart Crow written by Blackadder co-writer Ben Elton, about the playwright as he struggled to become established in the early 1590s, is now filming. (The title is taken from an actual literary insult levelled at the budding playwright by a rival.)

Mary Shelley: The feature biopic Mary Shelley written by first-time screenwriter Emma Jensen and director Haifaa al-Mansour, is now out, covering her formative years, when as a teenager she broke away from her famous parents (both radical writers), and ran off with the poet Percy Shelley, culminating in her authoring Frankenstein in 1816.
[And announced as in development on IMDB is Mary Shelley's Monster, written by Deborah Baxtrom, who wrote the 2012 comedy tv series Living With Frankenstein. IMDB synopsis: “Mary Shelley strikes a Faustian bargain with her alter ego as she works on her seminal novel.”]

Above: Upstart Crow - the ‘Macbeth inspiration’ episode [S02E05].

Left: Mary Shelley: [1] the famous 1816 literary getogether which gave rise to Frankenstein, and [2] [mouse over image] Douglas Booth and Elle Fanning as Percy Shelley and Mary.

Dusty Springfield: Written by Phyllis Nagy [Carol], who also directs, So Much Love focuses on the singer [played by Gemma Arterton] visiting Memphis in 1968 to record an album. (“So Much Love tells the as yet un-filmed story of a woman whose work redefined the cultural landscape as the greatest soul singer to come out of the UK.”)
JRR Tolkien: There may be two separate biopics upcoming about the author who popularised the ‘fighting fantasy’ genre. Now in post-production, Tolkien, written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford for Chernin Entertainment / Fox Searchlight, is synopsized on IMDB as “Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school." /”J.R.R. Tolkien, a love lorn soldier, draws from an epic life on his return from the Great War to create one of the greatest works of literature in The Lord of the Rings".
Focusing on his friendship with fellow Oxford fantasy author CS Lewis, Tolkien & Lewis was announced [with an $18 million budget and Simon West attached as director] a while back as due to appear Easter 2015 from indie outfit Attractive Films, but is still listed as in development on IMDB. "Lewis becoming the poster boy for Christianity upset Tolkien. And obsessive genius Tolkien is blocked, terrified of finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, for fear of the strange, psychotic visions which torture him." Confusingly, there is a one-hour docudrama, Tolkien & Lewis: Myth, Imagination & The Quest For Meaning written by its director Chip Duncan, released as a TV movie at Easter 2017.
Valentino: The Russian indie biopic Silent Life (out May 2019), written by Natalia Dar, Ksenia Jarova and director Vladislav Kozlov (who will also play Valentino), is about the silent star’s final days in a NY hospital in 1926.
Van Gogh: At Eternity’s Gate is “about Vincent Van Gogh’s ambition to be accepted as a great painter, and his plunge into depression when he was rejected”. Written by director Julian Schnabel and Jean-Claude Carrière [Belle de Jour], it is set at Arles in the late 1880s, two years before his death, by self-inflicted gunshot.
Han van Meegeren: In post-production is Lyrebird, written by Mark Fergus, John Orloff, and Hawk Ostby, about the 1940s Dutch master forger of paintings who fooled Goering and many others with his fake Vermeers, and became a national hero before dying in prison.
Jules Verne: In development, the family-oriented 3D CGI animated feature Little Jules Verne, written by ‘Ange’ [=Anne and Gérard Guèro], Pierre-Gilles Stehr and Michel Hazanavicius [The Artist], is “a reimagining of the young Verne’s life and inspirations in 19th century Europe.”
Catherine Weldon, aka ‘Woman Walks Ahead’: Just released in the US is Woman Walks Ahead, written by Steven Knight, about how Catherine Weldon, "a portrait painter from 1890s Brooklyn, travels to Dakota to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and becomes embroiled in the Lakota peoples' struggle over the rights to their land.”

Above: Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh, minus an ear, in At Eternity’s Gate


Above: Lyrebird



Left: Jessica Chastain as painter Catherine Weldon in Woman Walks Ahead

Orson Welles: The Other Side Of The Wind, Welles’s long unfinished semi-autobiographical final film [begun in 1970], from a screenplay he co-wrote with actress Oja Kodar, looks like it will finally appear [on Netflix], having been delayed by rights litigation. It stars actor/director John Huston “as a temperamental film director battling with Hollywood executives to finish a movie”. It's described as "a mockumentary satirising the Hollywood studio system and the new wave of art-house European filmmakers." (Hemingway was also a source of inspiration: “The character portrayed by Huston originated from an encounter between Ernest Hemingway and Welles in 1937 … in which a whiskey-drinking Hemingway threw a chair at Welles. Welles decided to use Hemingway as the primary model for Huston’s character.”) Another Welles project in the works is We Interrupt This Program, from a spec script by co-producer Sean Sorensen, about the behind-the-scenes rows between Welles and his producer John Houseman as they broadcast their 1938 War of the Worlds fake-news radio mockumentary, classed as the most influential radio broadcast in history for the panic it caused.

Oscar Wilde: Written by its star and director Rupert Everett, The Happy Prince covers Wilde’s final years in exile after his imprisonment for gross indecency, with the title taken from a fairytale Wilde wrote, here evidently used as an ironic frame of reference.

Above: The Happy Prince


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[c] Storylines In Review 2018