Books on Film at TIFF 2015

September 10, 2015 | Winona

Comments (7)

The 40th anniversary edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (a.k.a. TIFF) kicks off this week, with nearly 400 films being shown over the course of just ten days, from September 10-20.

As always, the festival is full of films inspired by books, from author biopics to literary adaptations, true crime dramas, film shorts, and other movies with bookish origins to excite lit-loving film fans.

Here is my list of books on film at TIFF 2015. Which ones will you be seeing and/or reading this year? Are there any you're looking forward to that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.



By turns elegiac and celebratory, this documentary tribute to the late, great Canadian poet Al Purdy features readings, reminiscences, and performances from some of the greatest names in Canadian letters and music. A TIFF Docs Presentation.

         Beyond Remembering by Al Purdy The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology edited by Paul Vermeersch

Al Purdy (1918-2000) was the author of more than 30 volumes of poetry and prose. In 1957 he and his wife built an A-frame cabin that became a mecca for pioneers of Canadian literature such as Margaret Laurence, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Ondaatje. It has recently been restored as a writer's retreat. On nice days, the writer of this blog post has been known to enjoy a picnic lunch with Al Purdy's statue in Queen's Park.




A two-fisted tale of ill-fated romance and six-gun justice gets a supernatural twist in this animated homage to the cowboy poetry of Robert W. Service. Kenneth Welsh's lusty narration and The Sadies' dead-cool score lend extra colour to the vivid vistas of lonesome prairies and desperate men. A TIFF Short Cuts presentation.

                    The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service illu Ted Harrison The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service illu Ted Harrison












Another legendary Canadian poet, Robert W. Service (1874-1958) was known as "the Bard of the Yukon". Two of his best known works are the narrative poems "The Cremation of Sam McGee", which was widely read to Canadian elementary school students in the 1980s, and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", which inspired Robert Kroetch's novel The Man From the Creeks.  




After his parents are killed, a young African boy is forced to become a child soldier in a rebel army led by a brutal commandant (Idris Elba), in this adaptation of the acclaimed book by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala. A TIFF Special Presentation.

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

In her review in The Guardian, Ali Smith called this harrowing debut novel "so scorched by loss and anger that it's hard to hold and so gripping in its sheer hopeless lifeforce that it's hard to put down."



Johnny Depp stars as notorious Irish-American gangster Whitey Bulger, who spent 30 years as an FBI informant while rising to the top of the Boston underworld, in this adaptation of the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. A TIFF Special Presentation.

Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill

In his Boston Globe review, William Bratton (former Commissioner of the Boston Police Department and current New York City Police Commissioner) praised this epic crime story for its authenticity: "O'Neill and Lehr have the remarkable ability to put you in the room and on the street where the action takes place. The authors could probably never have created a work of fiction more compelling than the real world they describe, the one occupied by the four main characters, or the web of corruption, deceit, and mayhem that revolved around them."




In the early 1950s, a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) crosses the Atlantic to begin a new life in America, in this exquisitely crafted adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Colm Tóibín. A TIFF Special Presentation.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Tóibín is an acclaimed Irish writer who has had three of his novels (including this one) shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The Telegraph book review called Brooklyn "a controlled, understated novel, devoid of outright passion or contrivance, but alive with authentic detail, moved along by the ripples of affection and doubt that shape any life: a novel that offers the reader serious pleasure."




Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne stars as Lili Elbe, the 1920s Danish artist who was one of the first recipients of sexual reassignment surgery, in this biopic directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper. Based on the novel by David Ebershoff, which is a fictionalized account of Elbe's life. A TIFF Special Presentation.

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

This debut novel by David Ebershoff, publishing director of Modern Library, was lauded for its refined writing style and marvelous period detail, and praised as "an unusual and affecting love story centering on a confrontation with the mystery of the other" in The New York Times book review.



The Daughter - film still

A young man returns to his dying hometown and discovers a dark family secret that could tear apart the lives of those he left behind, in this contemporary adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck starring Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Anna Torv, with Odessa Young and Sam Neill. A TIFF Special Presentation.

The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen

The Wild Duck is an 1884 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), one of the founders of modernism in theatre, and one of the most performed dramatists in the world. Several of his plays caused outrage when first performed because of their critique of capitalism and of the exploitation of women.




Academy Award winner Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, and Judy Davis star in this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Rosalie Ham, about a dressmaker who returns to her tiny Australian hometown from the chic fashion houses of Paris to put her past to rest — and revolutionize the local women’s couture while she’s at it. A TIFF Gala Presentation.

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

Described as an Australian gothic novel of love, hate, and haute couture, a recent New York Times review likened reading The Dressmaker to "visiting a small 1950s town not of history but as imagined by Tim Burton: the gothic, polarized world of Edward Scissorhands."




The legendary Maggie Smith stars in this adaptation of the based-on-fact play by acclaimed author Alan Bennett, about a high-born homeless woman fallen on hard times who found temporary shelter parking her van in Bennett’s driveway — for 15 years. A TIFF Special Presentation.

The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett

Prolific English playwright, actor, and author Alan Bennett also adapted another of his plays, The Madness of George III, for the screen as The Madness of King George, for which he received the 1994 Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay nomination.  




Tom Hardy gives a bravura double performance as Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the identical twin brothers who became the rulers of the London underworld at the height of the swinging '60s. Based on the book by John Pearson. A TIFF Gala Presentation.

The Profession of Violence by John Pearson

In 1967, the Kray twins hired John Pearson, who had just published the first biography of Ian Fleming, to write their biography, and corresponded frequently with him while in prison. The Profession of Violence is currently out of print and we have only a reference copy but there are also several other books about the notorious British gangsters.



The Man Who Knew Infinity - film still

Dev Patel and Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons star in this inspirational biopic about Srinivasa Ramanujan, the early-20th century Indian mathematician whose groundbreaking theories revolutionized the field. Based on the biography by Robert Kanigel. A TIFF Gala Presentation.

The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel

Called "a magic, tragic ugly-duckling fable...a remarkable story" in The New York Times review, this book tells the life story of the self-taught mathematical prodigy Ramanujan whose extraordinary discoveries in mathematics were revealed to him by a Hindu goddess prior to his death at age 32.




Stranded on Mars, a NASA astronaut (Matt Damon) struggles to survive on the arid planet while his ground crew races to mount a rescue mission, in this interplanetary epic from director Ridley Scott. Based on the riveting science fiction novel by Andy Weir. A TIFF Gala Presentation.

The Martian by Andy Weir 

Called "sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery" in its Kirkus review, this bestselling scifi thriller has been likened to both Gravity and Robinson Crusoe.




Stephen Frears directs Ben Foster in this thriller about disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal and downfall. Based on the book by David Walsh, chief sports writer for The Sunday Times. A TIFF Gala Presentation. 

Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh 

David Walsh - who was labelled "a little troll" by Lance Armstrong - is largely responsible for exposing the cyclist's drug use and precipitating his undoing, including the stripping of his seven Tour de France wins (a.k.a. his Seven Deadly Sins). 




Escaping from the captivity in which they have been held for half a decade, a young woman and her five-year-old son struggle to adjust to the strange, terrifying and wondrous world outside their one-room prison. Based on the Booker-shortlisted bestseller by Irish-Canadian novelist Emma Donoghue. A TIFF Special Presentation.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, this novel received a starred review in Quill and Quire, who called it "disturbing, thrilling, and emotionally compelling...a novel that is sure to stay in the minds of readers for years to come." And it's true: I read Room five years ago, and I can still conjure it up in my mind, clear as day.




A Federico García Lorca poem provides the inspiration — and Balkan beat wave artist Kottarashky provides the infectious soundtrack — for animator Theodore Ushev's surrealist romantic fantasia. A TIFF Short Cuts Presentation.

The Selected Poems of Lorca

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) was a Spanish poet and playwright who is believed to have been executed by Nationalist militia during the Spanish Civil War. His life and work has been the source of inspiration for numerous other artists in poetry, music, theatre, film, and television.



Sunset Song film still

Celebrated director Terence Davies returns with this adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's classic novel about a farming family struggling to eke out a living in northeast Scotland. A TIFF Special Presentation.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song is widely regarded as the most important Scottish novel of the 20th century. "Solidly freighted with the good detail, the surprises and the ambivalence that authenticate any study of a lost way of life," according to The Guardian review, it was first published in 1932, three years before the author's death at age 33.



This Changes Everything film still

Directed by journalist and filmmaker Avi Lewis and produced in conjunction with Naomi Klein's bestselling book of the same name, this urgent dispatch on climate change contends that the greatest crisis we have ever faced also offers us the opportunity to address and correct the inhumane systems that have created it. A TIFF Docs Presentation.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is a status quo disturber of the first order, having taken on, first, commodity culture and then disaster capitalism in her two previous acclaimed books. The New York Times review called This Changes Everything "the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring."




Bryan Cranston stars as the famous screenwriter and Hollywood blacklist victim Dalton Trumbo, in this engrossing biopic co-starring Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning, Diane Lane and John Goodman. Based on the biography by Bruce Cook. A TIFF Special Presentation.

Trumbo by Bruce Cook

Bruce Cook's biography of Dalton Trumbo looks at the life of the American screenwriter and novelist who wrote the screenplays for Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Exodus, and other films while officially blacklisted for refusing to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee.


Note: All film synopses are from 

Clapboard clipart


Related blog posts: