30th April 2021
Based on a True Story..
Something that has always fascinated me is when you reach the end of a 2 hour film, thinking ‘wow that was amazing’, and then five little words pop up that blow your mind or tug even further at your heart strings….
based on a true story.
When I consider how boring and mundane my life is, perhaps it’s no wonder I would be in awe of these stories! Sure, some of these books and films aren’t exact retellings and merely take inspiration from the events that once occurred. Nevertheless, it’s a genre that draws people in because of the promise that perhaps one day, our lives could be reimagined as an exciting adventure or thrilling mystery!
In this week’s post we look at 30 films and novels inspired by or loosely based on real events.
Featuring Tom Hanks, Sully is an autobiographical film based on Captain Chesley’s emergency landing of a passenger plane in the Hudson River. The story follows both the events which occurred inside the cockpit and the resultant aftermath where the Captain and his co-pilot are put through a gruelling investigation with their careers on the line.
Sure, most historical dramas are highly likely to be based on true stories, but for some reason I was late to the party releasing this one belonged to that group. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence messages for the British government during the Second World War. The script was based on the 1983 biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.
Most of us will of course know this story, in part for its infamy but also because it was fairly recently in our history. The film dramatizes the nearly decade-long international manhunt for Osama bin Laden, leader of terrorist network Al-Qaeda, after the September 11 attacks. This film highlights the search which led to the discovery of his compound in Pakistan and ultimately the military raid where bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011.
Back in 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia was published, which chronicles the author’s trip around the world after her divorce and the things she learned and discovered in the process. Four years later and the film we love was brought into the world. Honestly, I wish my life was this good of a rom-com.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006)
In 2006 Chris Gardner wrote a best-selling memoir about his nearly one-year struggle being homeless and in the same year, Will Smith would bring that story to life on our screens. The knowledge that this film is based on truth, surely makes it even more heart wrenching. Oh and did I mention that Gardner himself makes a cameo at the end of the film.
In this British historical drama, Colin Firth plays the future King George VI who, to cope with a stammer, sees Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist. The men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast upon Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939. Interestingly, Logue’s actual notebooks were discovered nine weeks before filming began and quotations from them were incorporated into the script.
This feel good comedy featuring Adams and Meryl Streep was inspired by Julie Powell’s daily blog which documented her attempts at recreating all 524 of Julia Child’s recipes from her cookbook “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking”. A must watch if you’re a foodie or aspiring homecook.
Jamie Foxx plays Ray Charles in his Oscar-winning performance, which explores the life of the music legend as he entered the music industry. Not only do we see how the man had to overcome racism and discrimination against his blindness to become a hit, but he also had to confront his own inner demons.
What could have been a tedious procedural is instead a gripping ensemble thriller about a team of Boston Globe investigative reporters who uncover the decades-long effort by the Catholic church to suppress information about scores of abuse charges against priests.
Based on the autobiographies of Johnny Cash, this film follows the country musician from his youth through his ascent to stardom, and his struggles with drugs, infidelity, and guilt over the childhood death of his brother. It’s only with the help of June Carter and her family that Cash is finally able to turn his life around.
This is certainly one reveal that shocked me; the film was inspired by a real-life FBI ABSCAM investigation in the 1970’s. The story follows two con men who are coerced into a New Jersey sting operation and is filled with plenty of wild dancing and of course, double-crossing.
What would this list be without a true crime recommendation… The Zodiac killer rose to infamy in 1960’s San Francisco, and his cryptograms continue to stump codebreaks and puzzle fanatics around the globe. This twisty, disconcerting mystery-thriller follows the investigation into the identity of the serial killer and is based on the 1986 non-fiction book of the same name by Robert Graysmith.
Aron Ralston, a mountain climber, is on a hiking adventure in Utah when he gets trapped in a canyon. Soon, he takes desperate measures to survive and struggles for 127 hours before he is rescued. In an interview Ralston says that aside from some minor changes the film is “so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama.”
Based on the 2010 book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, this biographical comedy-drama shows how the financial crisis of 2007–2008 was triggered by the United States housing bubble. Of course, what makes the film so great is all the cameo appearances which break the fourth wall to explain economics concepts that would otherwise be way over my head.
Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Several attempts were made to write a film of his life as a gay rights activist and politician, following the successful release of a documentary lloosely based upon Randy Shilts’s 1982 biography, The Mayor of Castro Street. After several decades, Milk was finally selected and became an Oscar award winning film starring Sean Penn.
OUR TOP NOVEL PICKS
THE GOOD PEOPLE BY HANNAH KENT
This Australian novel follows Nóra Leahy who has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and his mother has kept him hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference. Which is of course exactly what Irish women Anne Roche thought when she allegidly tried to murder Michael Leahy in mid–19th, claiming that he was a changeling.
SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE BY SARAH SCHMIDT
The infamous Borden murders that rocked the US in 1892 are known by many, but in this story we hear the tale from four different perspectives, giving us profound insight into this unsolved mystery.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS BY AGATHA CHRISTIE
Sure enough the kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old Charles Lindburgh heir did in fact happen and it made international headlines. The case was still being hotly debated two years later when Christie is said to have used it as inspiration for her renowned novel.
Turns out there’s a real story that inspired a book, which inspired a film, which totally should have won an Oscar. Hugh Glass was in fact mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions back in 1823. Despite not having any supplies, Glass survived and tracked down the men who had abandoned him.
SCHINDLER’S LIST BY THOMAS KENEALLY
Okay so you probably already knew this one, but still most of you have likely only seen the film when the novel is just as fantastic. In fact, Keneally won the International Booker Prize for his fictional retelling of Schindler’s war years, where he saved the lives of over 1,200 Jewish people during the Holocaust.
In 1968 the Manson Family murdered five people at the behest of their charismatic leader; Charles Manson. The fact that three of the family were young girls attracted a lot of media attention and in The Girls Cline has imagined the story from their POV, although she denies that it is a direct retelling.
YEAR OF WONDERS BY GERALDINE BROOKS
In 1666 the English village of Eyam responded to the plague ravaging Europe by shutting itself away from the rest of the world. Brooks writes from the point of view of Anna, a maid living in the village during the quarantine.
Jane worships her older cousin Angie. She spends her summer vying for Angie’s attention. Then Angie is murdered. Jane and her family are shattered. They withdraw into themselves, casting a veil of silence over Angie’s death. Thirty years later, a journalist arrives with questions about the tragic event. Jane is relieved to finally talk about her adored cousin. But whose version of Angie’s story – whose version of Angie herself – is the real one? Although these exact events never occurs, James was inspired by a 1940’s murder and the subsequent interview fifty years later, where one womens tehory that was so vastly different to the police, “it got me thinking about the idea of children knowing far more about such events than they let on”.
THE PERFECT NANNY BY LEILA SLIMANI
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But exactly as the real life 2012 murders that inspired this story, things take a drastic turn for the worse.
In a note at the start of the book Toews describes her novel as “a reaction through fiction” to the events that took place between 2005 and 2009 in the Manitoba Colony, a remote Mennonite community in Bolivia. Girls and women would regularly wake up in the mornings to discover they had been sexually violated. The attacks were dismissed as ‘wild female imagination,’ or else attributed to ghosts or demons. Eventually it was revealed that a group of men in the community were responsible. Through “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews shares the story of these women, determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.
This story was in part inspired by Elisabeth Fritzl, who had been held in a basement by her father, Josef, for 24 years and had seven children throughout her imprisonment. Donoghue however, wanted to focus more on the idea of what parenting would look like when a single room is your entire world. And so with many of the details changed to differentiate the story from the crime, Room was born.
THAT TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ BY HEATHER MORRIS
The book tells the story of how Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1942, fell in love with a girl he was tattooing at the concentration camp. The story is based on the real lives of Sokolov and his wife, Gita Furman.
For its beautiful writing and amazing story, this book was the 2014 winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was nominated for its beautiful writing and amazing story, without a doubt, but what most people didn’t know was that the incredible story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir is true. In 1828 she was convicted of killing her employer, along with another man, and sentenced to death. What happens from there is proof that fact is stranger than fiction.
CALEB’S CROSSING BY GERALDINE BROOKS
Caleb’s Crossing brings to life a historical figure who most people never knew existed. The novel’s title comes from Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University. Very little is known about the “real” Caleb, and Brooks creates her own version of the story through a combination of research and imagination as a way of immortalizing him in literary history.
THE INVENTION OF WINGS BY SUE MONK KIDD
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of the Grimké sisters who were early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.