John Walsh: Tales of the City

'Hollywood has become fixated on movies about authors, however unpromising the subject matter'
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The Independent Online

I see that Potter-mania is about to burst upon us. I don't mean the seventh Harry Potter tome, but the life and works of Beatrix, onlie begetter of Mrs Tiggy- Winkle and the Fierce Bad Rabbit. In the way of these things the plain, plump, chronically solitary and secretive Beatrix is played by the apple-cheeked beauty Renée Zellweger, while her amitié amoureuse with Norman Warne, her publisher's younger brother, becomes a romantic entanglement with Ewan McGregor.

It was only a matter of time before the film world tackled Beatrix. After a century of putting classic books on celluloid, they have become fixated on movies about authors, no matter how unpromising the subject matter.

Johnny Depp tends to be dragged into this genre, perhaps because his good looks will distract us from the fact that not much happens in such a life outside the study and the sight of the blank page. In Finding Neverland he played the terminally whimsical JM Barrie, who liked to befriend strange boys in Kensington Gardens, while in The Libertine he impersonated John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, the rudest and most decadent of British poets. Neither makes a very convincing hero.

Even less prepossessing is CS Lewis, whose Narnia books may be full of drama and vividness but whose life was a little on the dull and murky side, as seen in the touching but downbeat Shadowlands. Lewis spent madcap evenings drinking in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford with JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams.

They haven't got round to a bio-pic of Tolkien yet, but they will: I expect he'll be played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a craggy, visionary presence in the Department of Advanced Philology who kicks the ass of anybody who fails to agree with his theories of Middle English phonemic elision...

Shakespeare in Love was a brave stab at locating the Bard as a young man acting in his own plays and discovering his prototypical Miranda in the actress with whom he falls in love. Tom Stoppard, who wrote the screenplay, couldn't show his romantic lead scratching away with a quill all the time, so he suggested a high-energy lifestyle by having him run everywhere, zooming around markets and courtyards like an Olympic sprinter.

The lives of American writers are plundered in the same way, with the studios displaying a slightly creepy reverence for the authorial vocation, but seldom showing anyone actually writing anything down. Poor Gwyneth Paltrow spent 90 minutes being Sylvia Plath, reducing the poet's dazzling talent to 80 minutes of writer's block and weeping. Truman Capote was a brilliant writer who, in Capote, disappeared behind a silly voice and grumpy impatience (but precious little typewriter action) .

Hardly will you have digested the news that Beatrix Potter's life represented a titanic struggle between Victorian repression and Animal Passion (what did you think all those barnyard stories were secretly about?) than you can marvel at Becoming Jane in March. Starring the huge-lipped Anne Hathaway, from The Devil Wears Prada, it offers "a fresh and surprising view of the young Jane Austen" - you could see that coming, couldn't you? - "and shows how a little-known love affair with the roguish young Irishman, Tom Lefroy, played an influential part in the shaping of her work". Ah yes, Jane the minxie babe and her shag-monster boyfriend... no wonder she went off and wrote Mansfield Park after the experience.

I don't know. Whose quiet, unadventurous life will they pillage next? Anthony Trollope and his early career with the GPO in Ireland, brought to life in How Green Was My Pillarbox? Or The Secret Life of George Eliot ("she outraged polite society with her bizarre sexual arrangements!")? How about Becoming Morgan, in which the timorous, furtive EM Forster spends half his life in King's Cambridge, writing nothing but falling in love with a policeman? Those writers, man. They sure are a cray-zee bunch.

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS:

I resolve to stop saying "sweetheart" to waitresses, "safe" (meaning "OK") to my son's friends, and "cheers" to off-licence proprietors. When did I become this middle-class git?

I resolve to scissor all the XXL labels out of my new Christmas-present shirts, as an aid to self-empowerment.

I resolve to take much strenuous exercise in a healthy environment, surrounded by like-minded, healthy people in an atmosphere of shared endeavour. From the summer this will (regrettably) mean a pub.

I resolve not to talk about "my novel" every 6.15 seconds. After two years spent writing it and not talking about it for fear that it would bring bad luck, now that it's going to be published, I drag it mercilessly into the conversation as though showing off a baby. Strangers turn pale as they realise they shouldn't have asked, "So what does 2007 have in store for you?"

I resolve not to watch any more Woody Allen films. I caught an in-flight glimpse of Scoop, his new London movie, endured about five minutes of his hopeless, flailing improvisational acting with Scarlett Johansson, and decided that enough was enough. From now on I'll just remember him when he was good, in Manhattan and Love and Death.

I resolve to stop convincing myself that a doner kebab with extra chilli sauce is, in fact, a slightly decadent twice-yearly treat for the discriminating foodie, as opposed to a banquet of lamb's hooves and daggy rear end for the tragic loser.

I resolve to stop wasting time looking up the sneezing panda on YouTube.

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