These are the best author biopics to stream right now

From a surreal retelling of Franz Kafka’s life to a pair of Nicholas Hoult-starring biopics, these are the literary tales you should be streaming…

There are certain novelists who — famously and fiercely — hate seeing their written works adapted for the big screen. Stephen King was notoriously peeved about Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of The Shining, Anthony Burgess despised 1971’s A Clockwork Orange and Donn Pearce threw a punch on set when he saw what Warner Bros was doing to his treasured novel, Cool Hand Luke. 

But perhaps the best, most gripping dramas are those based on authors’ real lives. A good biopic can enliven the efforts and experiences of any individual — and many novelists, screenwriters and poets lived harder and more passionately than even their most wildly-written characters. Below, we’ve flicked through these biopics to find the best…

The Happy Prince, 2018

For years, actor Rupert Everett worked to get this passion project made. As writer, director and star, he poured his heart into the retelling of Oscar Wilde’s later life — casting Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and other acting heavyweights in supporting roles. The title, which takes its name from Wilde’s collection of children’s stories, has a shade of irony about it; as Wilde’s post-prison life took something of a tragic turn. 

Watch on: Amazon Prime, £3.49

Kill Your Darlings, 2013

Another tragedy; this time set during the early days of the Beat Generation. Charting the lives of several writers — including Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg — the thrust of this 2013 film follows the fractious relationship between aspiring writer Lucien Carr and David Kammerer, a man Carr later killed. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ginsberg in one of his first post-Potter roles, it’s an underrated gem. 

Watch on: Google Play Movies & TV, £2.49

Kafka, 1991

The year after Jeremy Irons won the Academy Award for Best Actor (for another true-life tale; playing Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune), the celebrated English actor picked up his pen and stepped in to the shoes of Franz Kafka. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (he of the Ocean’s trilogy), the film is suitably surreal — blurring the lines between the Bohemian author’s life and his most famous works, including ‘The Castle’ and ‘The Trial’.

Watch on: Amazon Prime, £3.49

Trumbo, 2015

Dalton Trumbo may have been a screenwriter rather than an author, but the Hollywood legend’s tumultuous, turbulent life undoubtedly earns him a place on this list. As does this tremendous film, released in 2015 and starring Bryan Cranston in the lead role. After being blacklisted from the film industry — accused of using scripts to push Communist propaganda — Cranston’s Trumbo smokes his way through a film brimming with big names — from Helen Mirren to John Goodman. 

Watch on: Amazon Prime, £3.49

Shirley, 2020

There are plenty of female author biopics worth your time — from Gywneth Paltrow’s psychological Sylvia to the 2002 pseudo-retelling of Virginia Woolf’s life, The Hours. But we’re most taken by Shirley, a 2020 film starring Elisabeth Moss that embellishes a snippet of the life of novelist Shirley Jackson. Set whilst Jackson is writing her novel ‘Hangsaman’ in 1951, the boundary-pushing biopic was executive produced by Martin Scorsese. 

Watch on: Netflix

Rebel in the Rye, 2017

The first of two Nicholas Hoult-starring biopics, this first drama is a relatively straight retelling of J. D. Salinger’s life — from his early days during World War II to the publication of his debut (and most famous) novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Despite support from Kevin Spacey, the film remains a solid watch — not offering anything overly groundbreaking, but creating a commendably stylish film on a modest, independent budget.

Watch on: Amazon Prime, free

Tolkien, 2019

Two years after his turn as J. D. Salinger, Hoult reopened the biopic book to become J. R. R. Toikien — the author of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’. It’s another film that didn’t make a huge impression (except at the Tolkien Estate, where a statement was issued making clear that they didn’t endorse the project), but it’s a pleasant enough insight into the life of the author. With charming turns from Lily Collins and Derek Jacobi, it’s worth your time — if you’re a fan.

Watch on: Disney+

Capote, 2005

Another double-bill, Capote was the first of two films — in as many years — about the flamboyant, high-pitched American author. In this 2005 film, Truman Capote was brought to life by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his lead performance. It’s a riveting retelling of the author’s life, affording pathos and real drama to one of the most significant and sensational periods in a somewhat tragic life.

Watch on: Amazon Prime, free

Infamous, 2006

The second Truman Capote biopic was released a year after Capote above — and starred British actor Toby Jones in the main role. But, while Jones shines in this adaptation of George Plimpton’s 1997 biography, it’s the supporting cast that makes this the better of the two films. With turns from Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Sigourney Weaver and Gwyneth Paltrow, the story charts the writing of Capote’s celebrated non-fiction novel, ‘In Cold Blood’.

Watch on: Google Play Movies & TV, £3.49

Genius, 2016

As with Trumbo above, Genius isn’t necessarily an author biopic. Rather, this 2016 drama tells the true story of Maxwell Perkins, a successful editor who discovered authors including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Another under-the-radar release, it stars Colin Firth as Perkins — and the 1920s-set world is further populated by stars including Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Guy Pearce and Vanessa Kirby. Particularly keep an eye out for Dominic West’s rum-soaked Hemingway.

Watch on: Apple TV, £3.49

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