What book would I most want to see filmed? The Ladies, a novel by Doris Grumbach. I've wondered often why it never was filmed. It's such a good story!
In the late 18th century, two Irish women decided to leave their family homes and create a life for themselves in the wider world. Sarah, an orphaned teenager, met Eleanor while on holiday from school. Eleanor, a woman in her thirties whose father had never forgiven her for being a daughter instead of the son he longed for, had dressed as a man from childhood and had enjoyed the kind of freedom that few traditional women could imagine. They became dear friends and companions, and their friendship was considered salutary by their families - until they eloped.
Lesbian love, even (and especially) loving relationships that were true marriages of hearts, minds, and bodies, shocked the families into allowing Sarah and Eleanor to leave their homes. They never returned. Instead, they established themselves in a small Welsh town, Llangollen, where they lived according to their own vows and beliefs. That their love was as natural as any was their first vow of binding. They vowed to create a beautiful home with bountiful gardens to sustain them, and to read and study to develop their minds and hearts.
Dressed in the riding habits and top hats that Eleanor designed as their lifelong fashion, they lived a solitary life in the puzzled town, and refused to allow themselves to be sensationalized when they attracted notice. Gradually, they received the visitors who would make them famous - Wordsworth, Byron, Walter Scott, Edmund Burke, Richard Shackleton, Josiah Wedgewood, and Anna Seward, amongst others. They grew old together, and they died together; their love never faltered.
Now, imagine the movie! Since there will be no more Merchant/Ivory productions, I would like Jane Campion to direct because of her skill in depicting women who make brave and difficult choices amidst natural or social beauty. (Think "The Piano" or "Portrait of a Lady," and imagine the Ladies against the expanses of rural Wales.) Picture Sarah's resplendent gardens, the house that the Ladies decorated, and the immense bed they shared; picture their beloved cow and the artichokes they feasted on with freshly-churned butter. The movie would be a visual treat.
Emma Thompson might be a good choice for the older, more assertive Eleanor. I can imagine Kate Winslett as Sarah, blonde and emotional, comforting Eleanor through her monthly migraines, knitting delicate stockings and gloves, and designing the gardens that would be so admired. Who would portray their famous friends? I'll leave that to you,the casting director, although I might suggest Anthony Hopkins as Sir Walter Scott, and (dare I say) Hugh Laurie as Lord Byron.
Perhaps you are puzzled, wondering why real-life luminaries are including in this fiction. Simple: Doris Grumbach's novel is a fictionalized biography of two very real, very brave women: Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, the Ladies of Llangollen. Did Sarah suffer from debilitating dreams and lingering guilt about her sexual preference? Did Eleanor develop a passion for magic in her later years? Grumbach cautions the reader to remember that her book is fiction, her own vision, and not a faithful biography. I think it would make a splendid film, and I recommend the book as a fine romance and a vision of the lives of two pioneering women.