If you are a fan of Virginia Woolf’s novels or books, you may want to watch one of the many great movies based on her books.
Although the stream of consciousness technique that Woolf used in her novels doesn’t easily lend itself to a visual format, a number of directors still found a way to make some great films based on her books.
You may be surprised to know that not only did Woolf’s books inspire these movies, it also inspired the Bechdel Test which is a famous feminist benchmark for modern movies.
The following is a list of movies based on Virginia Woolf’s novels and books:
To The Lighthouse:
Originally airing on British television on March 23, 1983, this TV movie is directed by Colin Gregg and is an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To The Lighthouse.
Starring Rosemary Harris, Michael Gough, Kenneth Branagh and Suzanne Bertish, the movie is about a family vacating at the seashore shortly before a personal family tragedy and the outbreak of World War I occurs.
The movie received positive reviews from critics when it aired. The New York Times praised it, declaring:
“Few works of literature would seem to lend themselves less readily to dramatization than Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse,’ but the BBC and Colin Gregg Ltd. have made the effort and the result is very special indeed.”
The movie was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts in the Best Single Drama category in 1984.
A Room Of One’s Own:
Originally airing on British television in 1991, this TV movie is directed by Patrick Garland and is a one-woman show based on Virginia Woolf’s nonfiction book A Room of One’s Own.
Starring Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf, the movie is a theatrical reading of Woolf’s book A Room of One’s Own which is about the adversity women face and the affect it has on their lives.
The movie received positive reviews when it aired. The New York Times praised Atkin’s performance, stating “Miss Atkins’s performance is, from beginning to end, splendid” while the L.A. Times named it the “strongest feminist movie” of 1991 in its article about the year’s best TV movies based on real events.
Released in 1992, this movie is directed by Sally Potter and is a British period drama based on Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography.
Starring Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane, the movie is about the adventures of a young man who lives for four centuries and changes gender from a man to a woman.
The movie received positive reviews when it was released. Roger Ebert described it as “the kind of movie you want to talk about afterward” and declared that is is “directed with sly grace and quiet elegance by Sally Potter, it is not about a story or a plot, but about a vision of human existence” while the New York Times called it “triumph of intelligent, lyrical yet argumentative film making.”
Released in 1997, this movie is directed by Marleen Gorris, with a screenplay written by Eileen Atkins, and is based on Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway.
Starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs. Dalloway, the movie is about the day in the life of a housewife as she prepares to throw a party, during which an unexpected event takes place that causes her to do some sudden soul-searching.
The movie received positive reviews when it was released. Variety magazine described it as “well executed and engaging” and stated it was “a highly romantic, deeply melancholy drama, the film offers psychological and existential insights about the inevitable effects — and price — of life choices…” while the New York Times described it as “elegantly wrought and reflective.”
Released in 2002, this film is directed by Stephen Daldry and is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, the film is about how the lives of three different women are connected by the novel.
The storyline of one of the characters in the movie, Clarissa Vaughan, is a retelling of Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway and is about a woman planning a party who has to come to terms with an unexpected and tragic event that suddenly occurs before the party.
The movie is based on a novel by Michael Cunningham and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, eleven British Academy Film Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, among others.
The movie received positive reviews when it was released. The Guardian praised the movie for its “bracing experimental impact” while the New York Times described it as “deeply moving” and the Hollywood Reporter called it “fascinating.”
A Ghost Story:
Released in 2017, this movie is a supernatural drama directed by David Lowery and is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s short story A Haunted House, as well as her novels Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse and Orlando.
The film even opens with a quote from Woolf’s story A Haunted House: “Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting,”
Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, the movie is about a young couple who are separated by a tragic loss yet they continue to forge a mysterious connection.
Lowery explained in an interview with the Huffington Post that although the movie isn’t actually based on A Haunted House, it was inspired by it and some of Woolf’s other works:
“Virginia Woolf’s literature really transformed my own ideas about how to formally represent the passage of time and how time affects us. Specifically, the benchmarks are Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando, all of which have time as a central conceit” (Jacobs 2017.)
The movie received positive reviews when it was released. The Guardian described it as a “strange and haunting tale” and praised it as “pensive, precise and with an elegant, looping structure, this is a first-rate piece of direction from Lowery, who also wrote the screenplay.”
The New Yorker called it “a jewel-like novella written directly onto the screen in images…” while also praising its “fiercely audacious originality.”
The New York Times states that although it is inspired by a Virginia Woolf story it still feels unique and original:
“Starting with a quote from Virginia Woolf, it wears its literary pedigree on its sleeve, yet it manages to feel fresh and inventive rather than stale or studied. It’s like an old tale by Saki or Henry James read for the first time: hair-raising and clever, a tour de force of sensation and a triumph of craft.”
Released in 2018, this short film is directed by Nick Cohen and is based on Virginia Woolf’s 1919 short story Kew Gardens.
Starring Christina Carty and Natasha Wightman, this film gives a brief look into the lives of four pairs of people as they walk through Kew Gardens in London and examines the randomness in life and human existence in doing so.
If you are interested in watching more Virginia Woolf-related movies, check out this article on movies about Virginia Woolf.
If you would like to watch more movies based on books, check out this article on movies based on E.M. Forster books.
Brody, Richard. “The Wildly Original Hauntings Of ‘A Ghost Story.’” The New Yorker, 11 July. 2017, newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-wildly-original-hauntings-of-a-ghost-story
Scott, A.O. “Review: ‘A Ghost Story’ Has a Sensitive Spector With Time On His Hands.” The New York Times, 5 July. 2017, nytimes.com/2017/07/05/movies/review-a-ghost-story.html
Ide, Wendy. “A Ghost Story Review – Casey Affleck is Truly Haunting.” The Guardian, 13 Aug. 2017, theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/13/a-ghost-story-review-casey-affleck-rooney-mara
Bradshaw, Peter. “A Ghost Story Review – Casey Affleck Goes Undercover in a Strange and Haunting Tale.” The Guardian, 10 Aug. 2017, theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/10/a-ghost-story-review-rooney-mara-casey-affleck-david-lowery
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Huff, Matthew. “100 Of The Best Movies To Stream On Prime Video In June.” Buzzfeed, 10 June. 2022, buzzfeed.com/matthewhuff/best-prime-video-movies-june-2022
“To The Lighthouse.” TV Guide, tvguide.com/movies/to-the-lighthouse/2030076717/
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