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Streaming: the best films about writers | Biopics

The writer generally gets a raw deal in the movies: alternately romanticised and patronised in films that will do just about anything to depict literary genius except actually show them writing. As a process, it’s not inherently cinematic; the best films on the subject try to slip some sense of the writer’s mind into their verbal and visual language.

Newly out on VOD platforms, Josephine Decker’s Shirley plays fast and loose with the facts around its subject, the midcentury American gothic spellbinder Shirley Jackson. Rather than offering any kind of reliable biographical portrait, it instead fashions Jackson’s unglamorous romantic life as the kind of suburban horror fiction she might herself have written. As interpreted in jittery, fevered style by Elisabeth Moss, Jackson becomes a kind of housebound witch with a typewriter for a cauldron, both antagonising her young academic lodgers and feeding off them creatively. I have reservations about its monstrous portraiture, but it works as an atmospheric evocation of her work’s ghoulish, stomach-tightening power.

Also new on streaming and DVD

The Witches (Warner Bros, PG) Nicolas Roeg’s fiendishly macabre 1990 film of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic was scarcely improvable, but this sluggish, plasticky Americanisation from director Robert Zemeckis, new to DVD, falls almost perversely short of the mark, from the peculiar miscasting of an otherwise game Anne Hathaway to the brutally ugly visual effects.

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